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Theater Review: Murder by Naptime

Shakespeare Ensemble Delivers a Drab and Somnolent Macbeth

By Nivair Gabriel

Produced by Margaret Rosenburg

Directed by Atissa Banuazizi

With Ari D. Shapiro G, Elizabeth B. Stephanopoulos ’07, Nathaniel R. Twarog ’07, Holly B. Laird ’07, Jonathan Reinharth ’06

La Sala de Puerto Rico

Oct. 27-29, Nov. 3-5 at 8 p.m.

$6 students; $8 general public

Get thee to bed. Is this a dagger which I see before me?” Macbeth (Ari D. Shapiro G) asked lazily, all in one breath. I didn’t even realize he was beginning one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues for at least 10 seconds. The art of reaction and of pantomime seemed to be completely lost on most of the Shakespeare Ensemble’s members; every actor in Macbeth simply waited patiently, expressionless, for their cues, and then delivered their own lines without emotion.

What the play clearly lacked was energy: though the program bios and personal attitudes of the Ensemble members would seem to contradict it, the play progressed without any enthusiasm from the actors. Everybody was either asleep, wishing they were asleep, or utterly bored.

The blocking contributed a great deal to the general torpor. As the three witches — usually dancing, cackling, tempting conspirators — Holly B. Laird ’07, Jennifer A. d’Ascoli ’08, and Sabrina M. Neuman ’09 spent most of their time at opposite ends of the stage from each other, standing absolutely still and reciting chants. Instead of sitting in Macbeth’s place at the table, the ghost of Banquo (David T. Meyer ’06) basked in red light above the rest of the stage, barely moving his head. Shapiro focused his gaze to the place where Banquo should have been, while the real ghost simply stared unthreateningly from above. Predictably, the swordplay was as painfully slow as the rest of the show, though it was probably the most exciting part.

As for the acting, it was a sad departure from the Ensemble’s usual knockout talent pool. Shapiro, though apparently dedicated to the role, spent the first half entirely devoid of spirit and intensity; he only slightly livened up post-intermission. Meyer’s own lackluster performance was made worse by the fact that he delivered his lines as if he were in a tongue-twister race. Though Nathaniel R. Twarog ’07 as Macduff was passable, he lacked volume: passion, if there was any, was inaudible — and I was sitting in the first row.

There were few exceptions to the overwhelming theme of lethargic stoicism. Lady Macbeth, played by Elizabeth V. Stephanopoulos ’07, was a marvel in her gleeful villainy (and later in her insanity). Her evocative facial expressions should serve as a model for the rest of the deadpan cast. Laird’s Lady Macduff and Young Macduff, played by Hanna S. Kuznetsov ’09, made for the best — and most tragic — scene in the show. To add an even greater compliment, I counted only four stutters or mistakes in a whole two and a half hours of solid Shakespeare.

As far as doing straight-up, unadulterated Shakespeare, the Ensemble has the required technicalities perfected, in addition to a history of astounding performances. The costumes were well-coordinated and fitting: the drab colors matched the play’s dark and evil-obsessed mood. I think my enjoyment of the show went up by about 40 percent just because I loved Lady Macbeth’s dresses. The set, complete with stairs and a balcony, obviously took a lot of work, and was well-used by the actors and director (Atissa Banuazizi). The odd and jarring sound effects didn’t fit and were noticeably absent until about halfway through the second act.

All in all, it was a fair production. However, it did not a full night make. Though Shakespeare’s play allows for little ambiguity, the exploration of how far evil can go is a chilling one, and I’m pretty sure the audience members aren’t supposed to snore on the shoulders of the people seated next to them. I’m even less sure that they’re supposed to leave the play after only three acts. When the curtain call came, I found myself thinking that my 10-year-old brother had done a more memorable Macbeth — and considering that I still remember his impressive performance after twelve years, I was probably correct.

Ensemble, trust me: I criticize because I love. I know you can do better.