It’s a short, brutal, bloody gutter punk Macbeth. The stage is brick, board and graffiti punctuated by caution tape. Life is short for filth in the absence of wealth. Director Alec Lachman has sliced Shakespeare’s classic tragedy to a very lean, percussive aggression. You’re in at 7:30 and you’re out by 9:13. Let the royalty of big funding handle longer, more elaborate productions. Let the bigger UPAF-borne theater companies handle the fancy decoration of a complete Shakespeare script. Down here on the street life is shorter and more aggressive. Tables get smacked in half by broadswords. People spit blood into the shadows of the basement. Macbeth is ambition and ambition is ugly. Let it look ugly. But not like the ambitious awful orange ovoid in the oval office. This is a street-level ambition and it needs to look as tough as it is.
The first time we see the powerful figure of the king-to-be, he’s carrying a wooden riot shield. Michael Cienfuegos-Baca is playing Macbeth. He's big and wearily aggressive. Physically imposing. He also designed the set. He uneasily rules an alley he made. The actor/designer works for a bank by daylight but here he IS power. His time is short...spurred-on by the prophecy of three witches. (The witches are the one part of the production I didn’t love. They have their moments, but they’re a bit over-the-top. They always are. Never saw a production where they weren’t. Just once I’d like to see them played every bit as cold and emotionless as fate itself. Following tradition, Director Alec Lachman guides the witches into cackling madness. It’s okay. It fits the mood of the piece quite well.)
Hannah Kubiak’s costume design has armor that suggests repurposed road signs. Spears are flagged with tattered yellow caution tape. Thee’s an old gas mask hanging from one of the walls. Smears of makeup seem to cover everything like stylized stains. There’s synth scoring by The Twilight resonating through a decaying alley. The cast drinks from empty tin cans. Receded from its traditional visual trappings, we get an angry clawing of raw ambition. There’s no visual fanciness of wealth onstage, so there’s no royalty-by-blood on the surface in this production. It’s all aggression and physical power. In this atmosphere Alexis Furseth is a badass Lady M. We get the feeling that Lady Macbeth could and would rule the disheveled corner of brick and graffiti all by herself but for the fact that she’s not physically big enough to beat back the competition. Her anger and frustration at Macbeth’s anxious weakness explodes at times. Just before telling him where he can stick his courage, she SLAPS him. She’s not going to take weakness from anyone, let alone her own husband. (She’s so boss...)
That slap is not alone. Lachman’s cut of the script has plenty of percussion. There’s more time for scrambling, scratching villainy than stern-eyed heroism, but thankfully there’s also humor. Sarah Zapiain is my favorite witch in the cast, but she’s also an excellent drunken porter. Zapiain is fun to watch around the corners of the production...always making interesting, little moody movements that add to moments on the edges of the ensemble. She makes a fun appearance as the porter after some murder. She awakens drunken--half-in and half-out of fluffy handcuffs with plenty of mood and attitude that’s perfectly at home with the rest of the show.
The whole thing is animated by a restless homeless madness. The physical trappings of the show make it feel real, but it could also be an extended psychotic fugue for those who have fallen on hard times into some back alley somewhere. That’s really what this kind of ambition is at its heart in the “real world,” though . . . it is an exhibition of ugly, disheveled gutter scratches. Out there beyond the stage in the “real world,” ambition may look decadent, corpulent and Trump-like on the surface, but Lachman and company find the true face of ambition here and it’s not pretty.
Out here on the street in the corner alley in the basement it’s all very brief. Down here with all the trash and detritus and wire mesh fencing next to a derelict stop sign it's all very close. Down here in this subterranean production of Macbeth it’s all close enough to feel the respiration and dizzy energy sweat and heat. Down here talent sweats away at night in late night rehearsals before surfacing into the daylight of day jobs. At night beneath the street downtown, though...this is where it’s real.
Kyle Conner plays Malcolm who takes the throne as the lights fall before the final bows. Conner as Malcolm on his throne make for a powerfully uneasy ending image for the production. He’s won, but there’s no look of triumph on his face. There’s only fear in his eyes. All too quickly it ends but we know...we know it’s never over.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of Macbeth runs through Mar. 31 at The Arcade Theatre in the Underground Collaborative on on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Voices Found Online.