By William Shakespeare
Kitchen Dog Theater
Director - Matthew Gray
Stage Manager - Ruth Stephenson
Scenic Designer - Donna Marquet
Lighting Designer - Aaron Johansen
Costume Designer - Samantha Miller
Sound Designer - John M. Flores
Props Designer - Jen Gilson - Gilliam & Donny Covington
Sword Fight Choreography - Bill Lengfelder
Technical Director - Alex Lorrain - Hill
Graphic Design - Sullivan Perkins
Board Producer - Ellen Key
Macbeth - Christopher Carlos
Lady Macbeth/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Christina Vela
Macduff/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Cameron Cobb
Malcolm/Murderer/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Max Hartmann
Lennox/Young Siward/Murderer/Gentlewoman/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Jenny Ledel
Ross/Fleance/Murderer/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Drew Wall
Banquo/Lady Macduff/Seyton/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Rhonda Boutt?
King Duncan/Doctor/Murderer/Weird Sister/Ensemble - Adrian Churchill
Reviewed Performance 2/10/2011
Reviewed by Kristopher A. Harrison, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Kitchen Dog Theater celebrated their 20th season of theatre with what they describe as a "stripped-down" version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. And it is indeed stripped-down: eight actors swapped out all of the 30 roles, there is a mostly bare stage, minimalist costuming, and the script has been trimmed to about half its normal length, with no intermission. All of these things set the stage for what could have been an outstanding theatre experience, but was in fact only a pretty good theatre experience.
The design team created a barren, urban apocalypse environment. There was multi-level scaffolding built around the small theatre, even behind and above the audience, and a simple platform at the rear of the stage. The metallic black and grey gave Donna Marquet's set an abandoned warehouse feel, but the director didn't fully utilize the levels until the end of the show. Prior to that, they seemed to serve as little more than very long exit stairs. The set design being open allowed for the entire ensemble to be visible to the audience even when they weren't in the scene. Again, this seemed an underused element of the production.
There was very little reaction from the ensemble at key emotional points in the play. They seemed content to just hang out, rather than contribute in a tangible way. The experience of seeing the actors as passive observers gave a Brechtian, disconnection to a play that is overloaded with dramatic emotional decisions and consequences. The result was that the audience was unable to fully connect emotionally to the action of the play.
One design highlight was the "soundscape" created by John M. Flores. Flores uses both music and the sounds created by the actors as they stomped, ran and clanged against the metal scaffolding throughout the show. The result is an environment that rang as hollow as the weird sisters' empty promises, and as hollow as Macbeth's embittered heart. Combined with that was a solid lighting design by Aaron Johansen. Johansen had essentially a "blank canvas" on which to work, and filled that canvas well, maintaining a creepy, hollow mood throughout.
The costuming was perhaps one disappointing element of the design. Clad in almost all black, the characters used only slight modifications to delineate the different characters they play. The most effective modification was the use of dirty towels to cover the faces of the actors playing the Weird Sisters. Their facelessness added to the mystique of these central, otherworldly characters. The rest of the costuming, though, felt uninspired. The costumes created a vaguely socialist/militaristic society, which didn't quite seem at home in the urban warehouse.
And speaking of things that weren't quite at home, we must turn our attention to the acting. First, let me say this: the actors were all strong. As an ensemble, they worked well together, and each of them handled the text quite capably. That being said, the decision to limit the cast to eight generated some difficult casting problems. Rhonda Boutt?, who was my favorite of the Weird Sisters and who had a stellar moment as Lady Macduff, never really got off the ground as Banquo.
Max Hartmann was sufficiently creepy in his various ensemble roles, but his Malcolm left me feeling nervous for the future of Scotland. Again, the actors were obviously all talented, but dividing so many roles among the eight left for some disappointing miscasting. Among the ensemble players, Adrian Churchill seemed the most well suited for his various parts, and he shone in each role. Jenny Ledel and Drew Wall were never in large enough roles to settle into just one character, but they both played the utility role well. Cameron Cobb did a decent job as Macduff, though at times he came across as too youthful for the role.
Ultimately, though, any production of Macbeth hangs on the actor playing Macbeth, and to a certain extent, on Lady Macbeth as well. Christopher Carlos was a timid, even affable Macbeth at the beginning of the show, duly surprised that the Weird Sisters would prophecy such grand things for him. His downward spiral to insanity was slow and a bit too controlled?I longed for him to emerge wild-eyed at the end of the play, and he never did. Christina Vela captured Lady Macbeth's passion from the beginning, and was solid throughout.
In the final analysis, this review was admittedly rather nit-picky. And since this reviewer had the luxury of being nit-picky, that is a sign of a pretty good production. Kitchen Dog Theater has been creating solid performances for 20 years now, and Macbeth continued the tradition.
Kitchen Dog Theater at the MAC
3120 McKinney Ave., Dallas, TX 75204
through March 5th
Run time approximately 100 minutes with no intermission.
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm
Pay-what-you-can for first 25 people on Wednesday and Thursday performances
Tickets priced $15 - $25
Call 214-953-1055 or go to kitchendogtheater.org