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A CurtainUp Review
Celebrating its fifth year of bringing free Shakespeare to New York's most marginalized persons this tour greatly benefits from having many veteran Mobile Shakespeare Unit performers on board. The cast is lead by Rob Campbell as the Thane who. Campbell, who also performed the duplicitous Angelo in the Mobile Unit's Measure for Measure, now gets his chance to play the soldier-hero who self-destructs and morphs into the scourge of Scotland. Teamed up with thespian Jennifer Ikeda as his partner in crime, the stage couple lose no time in plotting, planning, and executing Duncan's (Daniel Pearce) murder in their power-grab for the throne.
Other actors weigh in with excellent performances. Keith Eric Chappelle deftly slips into Banquo's skin—and other characters. Chappelle's Banquo serves as a fine foil to the go-getter Macbeth with his more deliberating manner and itch to fathom the ambiguous predictions of the three Witches. Ikeda (again), Nicole Lewis, and Teresa Avia Lim play the Weird Sisters (No Hecate in this production!) in knit helmets with a ghoulish air and balletic grace. They seem to materialize out of nowhere, but one can spot them, sooner or later, atop one of the three weathered trunks of the no-frills set design by Wilson Chin. James Udom plays Duncan's son Malcolm with a boyish skittishness early on that ripens into a grounded confidence at play's close.
To counterpoint all the doom and gloom, Nick Mills plays the bibulous Porter in vaudevillian-style. He temporarily transforms the stage into a kind of circus act. He alternately sits, straddles, and climbs in and out of one the nearby trunks at will. Then, with charming legerdemain, he pulls a wine jug out of the hidden depths of one chest, all the while delivering his famous speech about those who go the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire. Yes, tragedy and comedy go hand-in-hand in this very inventive Macbeth.
As helmed by Edward Torres, the production is in continual fast-forward mode. Torres conflates the play by omitting scenes and characters while ratcheting up the violence and blood. It begins with the bloody battlefield scene and wraps up with Macbeth's decapitated head in a burlap sack at center stage. No, there's not much scratching beneath the play's surface to delve into the supernatural elements or explore Macbeth's awakening conscience and his deteriorating psychological state. But one will never be bored watching this eight-member troupe as they traverse the performing space which is spiced up by a colorful carpet bearing Macbeth's name.
Who said you need special effects and grand decor to pull off Shakespeare? This troupe proves that pluck and imagination are more than enough to deliver the Scottish play's dramatic goods. The performers don't appear the least self-conscious as they speak the verse.
Though I've heard the play's soliloquies and set pieces done with more finesse, this corps clinches Shakespeare's language with sheer bravura. The Public has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. But the Shakespeare Mobile Unit succeeds by reaching back and redefining its visionary founder Joe Papp's mission of bringing Shakespeare to the masses.