Macbeth, at Paper Wing, July 20, 2013

Patrick Golden’s vivid Macbeth at Paper Wing

By Philip Pearce

The First Commandment for any Shakespeare production is “Thou shalt not be boring.” Grainy, dark, violent and sometimes flawed, Paper Wing Theatre’s Macbeth is not boring.

Before the play begins, clouds of stage smoke waft through the theater, signaling that we are not going to watch so much as participate in the prevailing “fog and filthy air.” And participate we do. Director Jourdain Barton never lets us distance ourselves from the gross violence and dark ambition that are at the heart of the story. In three major instances, she even shows us bloody and terrifying events which, in the text and most productions, hapMacbeth - resizedpen off stage. So it is that, before Jody Gilmore’s wounded sergeant describes Macbeth’s prowess on the battlefield, Patrick Golden and two other cast members I couldn’t identify enact it for us in a heart-stopping opening blood bath of swordplay. Later, during Macbeth’s extended inner struggle over whether or not to murder King Duncan (Jay DeVine), the old king lies asleep in plain view of the audience. Macbeth then enters the room and stabs Duncan in a bloody, flailing, grunting struggle to the death. Like that opening battle, it’s a departure, but it works.

I was less happy about Barton’s third innovation. The famous sleepwalking scene isn’t a walk at all. Penelope Morgan’s Lady Macbeth stays firmly seated while she mutters through nightmare visions and dark memories that shift and weave from reflectiveness to stark horror. Conveying all of that while stuck in a chair center stage would thwart actresses far more experienced than Morgan and for me the scene is a static letdown. As if to compensate, Barton then adds three or four gratuitous, spot-lit vignettes of Lady Macbeth looping and lurching around the battlements in her nightgown. Interesting idea, and Morgan does the crazy choreography well enough, but all it does is illustrate what she has already described, though not effectively acted, and it slows things down at the point late in the action when all we want is to get on with the story,

I was challenged, provoked, sometimes irritated and yet strongly impressed by Patrick Golden in the title role. With all that initial blood and death, I was afraid that, like some actors, he was going to play Macbeth as a ranting thug. What is impressive about this sturdy young man is that he understands, or at any rate intuits, that Macbeth is no Mafia dummkopf, but a sensitive and perceptive thinker, a ruthless soldier who nevertheless knows the moral implications of his actions, their dark, eternal dangers to his immortal soul.  Hamlet may waver and hesitate until persuaded at long last to destroy evil in an act of violence. Macbeth is seduced, almost from the opening moments, into creating a spiral of evils, knowing every bloodstained step of the way, exactly what he is doing. Golden is in control of almost everything he decides to do in playing the role. The decisions he makes may sometimes be questionable, but it is impressive to see him make them.

Skilled as he is in embodying all that combat choreography and stage movement (he has wonderful hands), he is at his best in the soliloquies. These are not private ruminations or hair-tearing tirades; he looks us in the eye and shares his tormented moral reflections, as though he were an accused man defending himself in court, and we the jury.

He has able support from the two other chief male performers. Timothy Samaniego is more forceful than many Banquos, every inch the soldier and a surprisingly sharp disciplinarian of his doomed son Fleance. Jesse Juarez III plays Macduff’s early moments for restraint and quiet humor so that his explosion of horror at the discovery of the king’s corpse is the right kind of shock. Similarly, his hearing of the massacre of his wife and children starts in a stunned silence that allows him to build effectively to a bellowing vow of vengeance against the murdering Macbeth.

Staging a masterpiece, you can‘t ever have everything. Almost all of the cast rush headlong through the poetry which often might as well be comic book dialogue balloons. Even Golden, clear and effective as he usually is when on stage alone, frequently gabbles his lines in the group scenes, not because he is floundering with the meaning but because he seems so caught up in it that his intensity runs away with him and we miss the message. That doesn’t matter too much when it’s clear what is going on anyway. Where it seriously mars this production is in sections like the visually impressive but very confused banquet scene which climaxes Part I. Banquo’s ghost is not shown, but is seen only by the crazed Macbeth. Fair enough. But that means Macbeth needs to indicate, moment by moment, exactly what it is that’s freaking him out. Golden races so relentlessly through it all that… Well, sure, a lot of us know by now what it’s all about, but I’d be surprised if a total newcomer to the story could understand clearly what is happening.

That said, I would hope this young actor continues to steep himself in this and other Shakespeare roles. His debut Macbeth shows a promise that it would be great to see fully realized in the future.

Paper Wing’s Macbeth continues Fridays and Saturdays through August 17.