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All the Park’s a Stage

Pistols and Tango Fail to Mar ‘Macbeth’ in the Common

By Jeremy Baskin


By William Shakespeare

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Boston Common

Remaining performances: Aug. 5-9, 8:00 p.m.; Aug. 10, 7:00 p.m.

There’s only one word to describe a 75 degree, clear, arid night spent sitting on a blanket amongst hundreds of peanut-butter-sandwich eating, water bottle-drinking theater goers in Boston Common: paradise. And to top it off, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth, while not flawless or earth-shattering -- or perhaps forest-moving -- was professional and entertaining.

Shakespeare-in-the-park is to theater types what park concerts are to music types -- these performances obey a certain set of rules. Because admission is free and costs are recouped only by advertisements and donations, the performance should appeal to a wide audience. If Mozart is on the program, it’s more likely to be the Jupiter Symphony rather than the Mass in C Major. And when the crowd chants “Bo-le-ro! Bo-le-ro!” -- well, you play Bolero.

Theater is no different. Don’t expect to see an authentic rendition of Moliere’s Tartuffe or even an obscure Shakespeare comedy. Expect the best of the best, the play you read in high school, to which you know the story, and to which you’ve already seen the Mel Gibson movie: Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

And there’s nothing wrong with this state of affairs, either. Difficult plays are for difficult months, when you have to trudge through the snow on a blisteringly cold night to the basement of a Harvard dormitory to see an atonal song cycle for alto, cello, and xylophone or an existentialist play about Samuel Beckett’s life. As if Waiting for Godot isn’t hard enough to digest, try, for fun, a play about the kook who dreamed it up.

But we’ll have none of that stress on our idyllic summer night at Boston Common, because the summer is for enjoyment. And enjoyment was had by all.

The staging was relatively simple, the set used for the entire show consisting of walls with small windows and broken glass as the backdrop and entrances here, there, and everywhere. In addition to two spotlights, background lighting was imaginative: red when murder was occurring, white when the “good” people (Malcolm, Donalbain, Macduff) were plotting to oust the tyrant Macbeth, and green when Birnham Wood was marching toward Dunsinane Castle.

Another part of the set was the three witches, who spent the entire performance on stage. Apart from their two scenes with Macbeth, they were in the background, not interacting with the other characters on stage but merely painting smears of red paint on the walls of the set as more and more characters were murdered.

Other elements of the direction seemed to satisfy entertainment or convenience: pistols abruptly ended swordfights that would have required a lot more choreography, and catchy tango music kept the audience pacified during scene changes or dull moments. The pistols and some of the accompanying costumes seemed a bit over the top, but the tango worked remarkably well, at least to my ears.

As for the acting, Macbeth (sadly, the program did not have any actors’ names) was the tragic hero of the evening in more ways than one. Of course Macbeth is a pitiable tyrant, a hero with an Achilles’ heel, but the actor who portrayed Macbeth fell into a similar category. That he was the best actor on stage is an undisputed fact to me, and that he owned each scene he appeared in and displayed a range of emotions and volumes of voice was apparent to all. But there were more than the few allowed line fumbles, which unfortunately detracted from the performance. On the other hand, try saying “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well/ It were done quickly” with feeling, in front of a thousand people.

But enough pickiness. We’ll have to save that for MITSO’s upcoming performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The play is good, the staging and acting are good, the admission is free, and there are even enough portapotties that you can enjoy that second $3.75 cup of freshly squeezed lemonade guilt-free.