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Theater review: Imagination Dominates Spellbinding Nashville Shakes ‘Macbeth’

Macbeth 26So fair and foul a day I have not seen until I checked out Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s current mounting of Macbeth. It has it all.

Former Nashvillian Matt Chiorini – who headed People’s Branch Theatre here before founding Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre – helms a cast of rough-and-ready, verse-adept actors as well as smoothly expressive dancers from Nashville Ballet. Add striking, intricate lighting from Anne L. Willingham and sound from Chiorini that even includes music from Nine Inch Nails among other elements and this production puts all your senses on full alert.

Macbeth 27Critic Harold Bloom once wrote that Macbeth was dominated by his imagination. That’s what makes this visually compelling version (pared to just under two hours including intermission) work – the stagecraft serves the creative non-literal realm that combines with the pragmatic and bloody power games played by aristocratic Scots of old to fashion an intoxicating brew.

Who doesn’t know the story from high school or elsewhere? The plot for those who don’t is simple: an ambitious nobleman named Macbeth (Eric D. Pasto-Crosby) and his good lady wife (Shannon Hoppe) have their ambitions fired by prophecies that lead them to kill the current king (Brian Webb Russell) and seize the throne. Since this is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies it all ends in tears, but of course that’s one of the reasons the play has stayed with us for more than 400 years.

Macbeth 15Pasto-Crosby is certainly in commanding form, looking quite gonna-be regal in the stage-ready mix of styles and combat boots provided by costumer Billy Ditty. He does a good job of revealing Macbeth’s increasing paranoia and growing embrace of terror as his weapon of choice,  and his desolate rendition of the famous “Tomorrow” soliloquy is one of the best takes on that speech I’ve ever heard.

Hoppe – whose sensuous wife has good onstage chemistry with her husband – does Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness like a downhill skier fearlessly taking ever faster turns on a dangerous world-class course; her scream at one critical moment (you’ll have to go to see when) is unnervingly primal. And (without trying to spoil while trying to tease) she’s got quite a way with a blanket – I’m not being flippant because there’s a very important point she makes with that item.

Macbeth 21If ever someone was physically right to play an ancient warrior Scot (at least in the mind of someone who’s seen a film like Braveheart) it is Aaron Muñoz. He is a burly bear of man that has acting ability of an equally impressive scope; when Muñoz’s Macduff reacts to the murders of his entire family the sorrowful wail that erupts is as powerful as his angry resolve for revenge.

There’s fine support from Russell, Robert Marigza, Evelyn O’Neal Brush, Jon Royal, Antonio P. Nappo and other members of the company. And Aubrey Clayton, Emily Cloyd and Madeline Foderaro – members of the Nashville Ballet Second Company – are nimble Witches whose mix of earthy and ethereal moves, along with the rest of the show’s well-integrated choreography, have been thoughtfully designed by Christopher Stuart. Complementing that choreography are the excellent fights designed by David Wilkerson.

Macbeth 23Jonathan Hammel’s set design captures the intermingling of natural and supernatural perfectly. And the union between that set and Willingham’s lights is seamless – my favorite element is the solar eclipse that prominently marks the backdrop for much of the show.

What’s done is done, and in the case of Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth it’s well done. No matter how many times you may have seen this play, you’re in for something quite spellbindingly new.

Macbeth 1Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth featuring Nashville Ballet continues through Jan. 27 at the Troutt Theater (2100 Belmont Blvd.). Public shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays; there are also 10 a.m. school matinees through Jan. 25. Tickets ($24 in advance; $21 ages 60 and older; $12 students; group discounts available; all seats $3 more if purchased at the door) and more info are available by calling (615) 852-6732 or visiting www.ticketsnashville.com and www.nashvilleshakes.org. This show is recommended for ages 10 and up.

More photos:

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*Photos by Rick Malkin courtesy Rick Malkin Photography and Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Backstage and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).