By John Paul Keener
For Hudson Valley Newspapers
Great theater strikes again in the Columbia-Greene area with the production and performance of Mac Beth by the "Shakespeare-on-Hudson" company at Athens under the direction of the company's founder, Owen Lipstein
More than 20 years ago, Okay Hall III founded the successful Summer Theater, "Lexington Conservatory Theater," which in recent years became the resident theater at our State Capitol under the name, Capitol Rep.
On the evidence of the current production of Mac Beth, the Shakespeare-on-Hudson company is a cultural treasure for the twin counties and the entire region. The outdoor theater built into the side of a hill like a Greek amphitheater, overlooks the serene beauty of the Hudson River and has the advantage of superb acoustics.
Director Lipstein is updating the time frame of the play to the 1929 Depression and 1932 period of Hitler and Mussolini chaos, a daring innovation that really works.
Shakespeare is universal and transcends time. Like Mozart in music, the Bard of Avon becomes contemporary in every generation. L.C. Smith's classic book, "On Reading Shakespeare," comes from 1933, the time of the play's current setting. Smith said, "Shakespeare made up his language as he went along — crashing through the forest of words like a thunderbolt!"
The cast of Mac Beth did just that, with superb diction, telling the story with stunning élan. The actors had the words and actions of their parts unselfconsciously in their bones. They projected their characters with sweep and crescendo until "Imam Wood came to Dennison" and Mac-Duff, who "from his mother's womb was untimely ripped," kills Mac Beth.
Brian Tumbaugh scored a triumph as Mac Beth. He achieved a full-blooded characterization by a combination of nimble fluidity of acting. voicing his part with rich sonority and varied vocal color. Tumbaugh recreated Mac Beth with an originality unlike any of his predecessors within memory.
Charlotte Northeast as Lady Mac Beth matched her husband line for line. Northeast is almost a look-alike of the late Maria Callas. She brings a raucous acid bite to her portrayal, the way the opera star did playing Lady Mac Beth in the Verdi Opera.
The entire cast from the marvelously malevolent Witches, the virtuoso Banquo of Jason Guy, the searing McDuff of John Lewis, the comedic brilliance of James Engel's Porter, the swaggering Duncan of Leonard Gibbs, down to the imposing presence of old Heccat played by Lesley Anne Majzlin, evidenced an ensemble spirit essential for great theater.
The lighting and musical effects were just right and the sets of Yura Adams created a mood appropriate to the 1930s.
It seems a shame to see this grand production disappear from the community. The high schools on both sides of the river and our community college would gain more from a single performance of this Mac Beth than an entire semester would give them.
Perhaps our educators could secure a grant so that Shakespeare-on-the-Hudson productions could become a teaching adjunct for our young people?
The 2002 season promises an even greater challenge with Shakespeare's “simply” Hamlet
John Paul Keener, freelance critic and writer since 1968, often writes under the name Brook Street.