Aug. 17 2009 12:00 AM

Riverwalk takes big swing at Macbeth, comes up short


“Macbeth” may be the shortest of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, but it’s also one of the bloodiest. For Riverwalk Theatre’s production of this classic work, director Eric Dawe doesn’t shy away from the blood.

Riverwalk’s production of “Macbeth” makes use of virtually every visual and special effect short of flying people on wires. From a fog machine to a trapdoor to a backlit scrim, Dawe tries to make "Macbeth" as stimulating to watch as it is to listen to. Some effects work nicely, while others, such as the pre-recorded voices of the three witches, are clumsy and overcomplicated, working against any desired intention of mystery or spookiness. The majority of the play is relatively low-tech, allowing the actors to provide the emotion and drama themselves.

Brad Rutledge plays Macbeth, the ambitious general who works to fulfill the prophecies of a group of forest witches to deadly lengths. Rutledge does a competent job with a very challenging role, but his character’s intentions never feel completely consistent. While Macbeth’s motives are often debated and there is no “right” way to perform the character, Rutledge often goes very broad in his portrayal, which leads to a more cartoonish than creepy interpretation.

As Lady Macbeth, Kelly Gmazel spits out her lines like venom, delivering with aggressive intensity. Gmazel is strong overall, but she never tries for subtle manipulation, leaving her character lively, but not as juicy and intriguing as it could be.

Dawe keeps the pace moving, especially in Act 1. Still, despite the swift delivery of lines, frequent set changes by darkly clad stage technicians punctuate the end of every scene, removing any sense of continuity within the fantastical world.

The set design by Craig Mitchell Smith is functional in its abstract minimalism. Terri Lehman-Carrow’s costumes look period appropriate but somewhat cheap and wrinkled.

Overall, the rest of the cast keeps its lines coming fast and with incredible diction. With a large community cast it is nearly impossible to make every character interesting or sympathetic. Apart from the visual effects, Riverwalk’s production doesn’t do anything new or original to the classic play, but they have put together a worthy attempt at a very challenging piece of English literature.


April 5 7 p.m. Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday
Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing $8-$14 (517) 482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.org