Wilma Theater Presents a Scottish Play for Modern Times

by Walter Bender

CJ Wilson takes the title role in MACBETH, running at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, PA through November 7. (Photo by Jim Roese).

The Wilma Theater opened its 2010/2011 season with the first Shakespearean production in its history, MACBETH. This is, of course, the classic tragedy of the Scottish noble who encounters 3 witches, who tell him that he will ascend to be ruler of Scotland…but that his companion’s sons will rule Scotland for generations. From this, the Bard wove a tale of political intrigue, savagery, betrayal and murder.

Inspired by an anonymous diary, A Woman in Berlin, director and Artistic Director of the theater Blanka Zizka has placed the show in the waning days of World War II, as the political structure is similar and allows the casual viewer to more readily understand the story if not necessarily the language. The set is a bi-level bare stage, the lower level designed to appear as a bunker or basement, the upper level open and utilized in both interior and exterior scenes.  The costuming is consistent with the director’s vision, fatigues and 40’s formal wear worn throughout.

The performances of the ensemble, from leads to walk-ons were very solid. They did an excellent job of translating the classic English with expressions and delivery so that the audience followed the story very well. Special kudos to Ames Adamson in the small role of the Porter, providing some much-needed verbal (and physical) comedy to this heavy show. Also worthy of note was the performance of Jacqueline Antaramian as Lady Macbeth…her initial ambition was palpable, and her increasing horror as crime after crime is perpetrated was excellent. CJ Wilson as the title character carried all the splendor of his ascension to the throne, as well as the decent into madness and desperation as plan after plan falls apart.

Staging this particular play in the 1940’s has been done before elsewhere, with varying results, I find that it does accentuate the political intrigue of the play, but the inherent savagery of the Scottish people is lost by bringing the story several hundred years into its “future.” The battle scenes were, for the most part quite civilized, not the bloodbaths one might expect from the text.  Aside from that, I found the show very enjoyable (if one can call a tragedy “enjoyable.”)

Caution to the viewers…the show runs about 2 ½ hours, with only one 15-minute intermission, about 1:45 into the show. But, the first “act” is so compelling you almost don’t notice the passing of time.

One final note, for Macbeth “geeks” who are reading this…I would have liked to hear the director’s thought processes as to the identity of the third murderer. I was surprised by the choice, but also somewhat disappointed. It would be a fascinating discussion for another day.

All in all, the Wilma is to be congratulated for a worth first effort in producing Shakespeare. I wish them a very successful run. (And, be careful of the curse…I got a flat tire driving home from the show. Coincidence? Perhaps…)

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Blanka Zizka
September 29 – November 7, 2010
The Wilma Theater
265 S Broad Street (Broad & Spruce Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Box Office: 215.546.7824

You may also like

Leave a Reply