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'Macbeth' in Marigny

Skin Horse Theatre's Take on Shakespeare's Tragedy, Reviewed

Ever wonder how to hit heartstrings even harder when mounting one of Shakespeare's most famous and most powerful tragedies?  Try having the title character hammer out some Satie and Debussy on the piano as he verbally wrangles the fangs of insanity. The Skin Horse Theatre does just that with their scaled-down production of Macbeth at the Tigermen Den (3113 Royal St.), focusing on the innate horror of the play and flaunting a few wonderful performances.


If the audience missed Macbeth's fingers on his opening piano sequence, they will notice the subtle expressions of his hand throughout the show. Dylan Hunter, playing the title role, gives a range of power and finesse which can be seen throughout his body, down through the tips of his fingers. The entire arc of the show can be intuited just from watching his nervous thumb or excited and greedy strained knuckles.


But before we see the unlucky Scotsman, the entering Witches set the mood for the evening with a series of contained, yet strenuous and wild movements alongside airy clicks and hisses as they cross the stage. Throughout the play, these witches are onstage seemingly manipulating both themselves and the events of the plot with the precision of a puppeteer, often casting hideous shadows of malformed bodies on the wall. They help set up an overall creepiness, with nails scratching on old wood and faces sliding across the floor.  


Yet while the witches sometimes speak the extradiegetic "Enter Macbeth," they also serve as set-piece movers and in-scene characters ("double double…" and such).  While they are always a sight to behold, this tri-role nature can get confusing at times, especially as they ofter linger behind the action on stage.


In a hauntingly choreographed scene, Lady Macbeth, played by Veronica Hunsinger-Loe, dances with the Witches to communicate with them. Hunsinger-Loe throughout the play does a wonderful job in communicating the tragic arc of her character, beginning with this frenetic ecstasy all the way to her eerily still and sleepy nightmares of the final act. Unfortunately, the production's success becomes a detriment; she spends a significant amount of time on the ground in this dance, which is only clearly visible to those in the front row.  


The space--or perhaps the way it was dealt with--had one other notable flaw. Most of the first half takes place behind a small proscenium, making difficult viewing for those not watching the performance straight on. Over intermission, however, there is a welcome shift into a thrust stage. An old wooden table serves for dinner meeting, as a sort of torture-rack, as well as a platform for the blind-to-failure, hunched and delusional Macbeth in the final sequence. Lights are stark against the exposed, old wood of this converted Marigny house, only adding to a powerful sense of a timeless cursed place.


The rest of the characters--from Banquo to assassins to servants--are played by a trio of talented actors. And while the actors do a convincing job in each role, whether regal or for comic relief, keeping pace becomes remarkably difficult.  And while the Macbeths (the Lady in a wonderful snake-green dress) and the Witches (Ellery Burton, Pandora Gastelum,  and Monica Giliam) have wonderfully elaborate period-esque costumes, the gentlemen (Brian Dorsam, Matt Standley, and Eli Timm) all wear modern, muted greys. The dreary color palate and period juxtaposition work well enough, but keeping track of the variety of characters in grey does not. Skin Horse obviously tried to help us along with a few props (a killer's kerchief, a brooch), but most of the time these identifiable items were too small or subtle to actually help.


In one other oddity of this production, an overhead projector was noisily wheeled on stage and brazenly plugged in to become the all-powerful voice during Macbeth's second visit to the Witches. While the effect of the projector was pretty for those who could see it, its artifice coupled with the nonplussing voiceover (supposedly the Witches' boss) was underwhelming and distracting from the three prophesies that lead Macbeth further into his tragic folly. Admittedly, Macbeth touts a remarkably complicated plot, and as such the audience could have benefited in the form of an explanatory paragraph in the program or perhaps even a list of notable characters.


Overall, the period before intermission built on the nervous insecurity of Macbeth, hitting home with an in-your-face soliloquy ("Is this a dagger I see before me…?") paired with his excited and ambitious wife. The dinner scene that opens the second half of the show becomes her strongest moment, as she manages a hallucinating husband and visiting royalty with a comedic grace and power. Often in both halves, all characters on stage manage to pause on beautifully constructed pictures on stage--with profiles highlighted and a variety of height-levels, giving secrets to their powerful, still moments. The show ends mostly as it began, with Macbeth musing on the piano, and his inevitable fate looming behind him.


Finally, with such a pared-down script, a few actors playing several roles, and such complicated language, vocal clarity becomes paramount--something that missed its mark, but only a few times. And let's be honest, this production of Macbeth was phenomenal and fresh. Any critique is only suggestion and one audience-member's experience. As evidence, I must also remind any readers that reviewing is a labor of love, and this was quite that.  


Macbeth plays Thurs.-Sun, through Feb. 18, at the Tigermen Den (3113 Royal St.). Performances begin at 8 p.m. Find ticket info here.


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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

Published Daily