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Charlotte Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth:’ Blood and thunder, too little depth

Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • ‘Macbeth’

    Charlotte Shakespeare does the drama about a warrior who murders to be king of Scotland.

    WHEN: Through Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

    WHERE: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.

    RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes.

    TICKETS: Pay what you can; suggested donation $5 minimum. The best seats can be reserved for $25.

    DETAILS: 704 625-1288 or

The bolder elements of the set for “Macbeth” peep out at us through spooky, somber lighting in Charlotte Shakespeare’s production, but the details are harder to see. So it is with the text: The essential colors come through, but nuances emerge only infrequently.

Director Elise Wilkinson cut the play to fit it into a running time of one hour and 50 minutes, including intermission.

The witches, robbed of some malevolence toward humankind, become soothsayers more than spirits of evil. Future king Malcolm, who has the largest role after Macbeth and his wife, loses chunks of his meditative dialogue. (Not a bad thing, when Brian Seagroves shouts so much of it.)

The line of Banquo’s descendants, which Macbeth sees stretching into infinity in a mad monologue, has been replaced by dead Banquo limply pointing an arm. Wilkinson also makes internal cuts that reduce repetition but remove some compelling language.

Some of the trims don’t matter: I don’t miss the third murderer of Banquo or Lady Macduff’s wise-cracking, doomed little boy. (Yet this pregnant Lady disarms and slays a knife-wielding cutthroat in a laughable, inserted interlude.)

But the constant small cuts give us the sense that Wilkinson doesn’t trust us to sit through Shakespeare’s shortest and perhaps most poetic tragedy. (A full version would run about 35 minutes longer.)

Gretchen McGinty gets the most out of her character: Her Lady Macbeth is “unsexed” by the spirit of cruelty yet almost erotically possessed by a sense of power, and her sleepwalking scene has harrowing intensity.

Christian Casper works up a fine rage as her husband: He has energy, cunning and an adroit way of controlling a scene. But this Macbeth never descends into terrifying insanity – his defying of Banquo’s ghost drew laughter from the audience – or, more crucially, world-weariness. He’s vigorous from the start of the play to his final monologue of despair, which he caps by roaring that life means “NOTHING!”

Foster Solomon is both Macduff and the show’s fight director. He has a strong presence as Macbeth’s foe, although he throws away his most chilling line. (He can’t revenge himself on Macbeth, who slew Macduff’s kids: “ He has no children.”) I don’t know whether he or Wilkinson decided Macbeth and Macduff should drop their swords and punch each other out in the final duel, but it’s another laughable moment.

The witches make a strong effect when they can be understood through their cackling; why they hang around silently during some of the action, I have no idea. (Are they controlling it? Merely voyeurs?)

So in the end, we get a piece of a masterpiece: Dark, quick and forceful at its most vivid, skating across the surface of a deep play at its least effective. It’s more than simple “sound and fury” – of which it has plenty during repeated strokes of thunder – but so much less than it might have been.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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