Classic in a new space

Adam Griffiths

Hanna Theater debut toiled in troubles

Something a little too wicked has come to Cleveland’s E. 14th Street this fall, complete with witches, dramatic lighting and Oriental gongs.

No, if you’re expecting a review of some new-age haunted house, try again next year.

To open its inaugural season at its new home at the Hanna Theatre, the Great Lakes Theatre Festival presents an impressive staging of one of Shakespeare’s biggest and most towering tragedies.

“Macbeth” is an appropriate selection to launch a new chapter in the Cleveland-based company’s history. The scale of the production and the range of the performances make the best of everything the newly renovated Hanna has to offer.

From the ascent of the witches from the depths of the lowered thrust stage to the presentation of the title character’s head and Malcom’s own ascension to the throne, the production does justice to the spirit of the Scottish play. “Macbeth” has been performed countless times, and what GLTF’s version of the play is good at is reinterpreting the classic show by underscoring its darkness – the sheer virility the manic script exudes.

“Our objective in creating this production has been to capture the rhythm of ritual, the intensity of the action, and the strange beauty that Shakespeare has given these horrific events,” director Charles Fee wrote in his note on the production.

Fee does all this by giving the show an Oriental flavor, from the porcelain faces of his decrepit witches to the rhythm provided by steel drums and sheet metal effects. The three hags hobble out on four legs, and they’re strategically deployed on stage throughout the show, embodying the looming destiny they proclaim.

But the rest of the show falls short of a stellar reimagination, and it’s the relationship between the actors’ performances and their setting and production. Dougfred Miller and Laura Perrotta, who star as Macbeth and his lady, go certainly mad, but it’s their getting there that’s unconvincing. Lynn Robert Berg brings eagerness to Banquo, but it’s too insincere and not calculated enough to give the character an edge he needs. David Anthony Smith shines as MacDuff and drives the second act home.

The scenery, lighting and overall production of this version of the show drowns out the satisfactory acting. The drumming and gong playing overpower some scenes, and, at points where the setting seems designed to emphasize the dialogue, it just washes it out. The perspective is clear, though. The scene with Banquo on the banquet table is particularly well-done and perfectly executed in tandem with the script. While the show is staged well inside the Hanna, the room almost feels too small to contain the energy the play could unlock in a bigger, more open space.

“Macbeth” is a respectable ribbon cutting for the GLTF, and it’s worth the ticket to spend a night inside the new theater. Sit in the balcony and take in the history of the room and show. They complement each other well, at least.

Contact managing editor Adam Griffiths at [email protected].