Reviewed by Guy Picot

Shakespeare’s tale of ambition and murder, told by a company of five.

macbethX5Joel Asher is a veteran director of Shakespeare and in this stripped-down version of the play (Presented by Joel Asher Studios in association with PlayMakersLA at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA) he uses a strong ensemble to move the story forward at a dizzying speed. At eighty minutes (without an intermission) Macbeth x 5 is an almost cinematic entertainment and may be perfect for those who like their Shakespeare at full throttle.

A composite set of Stone Henge-like portals and four platforms of different heights suggest a bleak and rugged world.

The piece opens with the actors, all dressed identically, doing a sinuous dance. Movement throughout is stylized and precise (movement director Marisa Moses).

The witches, in white gauze that covers their features, overlap in their chants and spells, giving a sense of a repeated ritual.

The story-telling is clear and the edit maximizes the momentum but the poetry is inevitably less well-served.

Alexandra Wright and Stephen Tyler Howell in Macbethx5
Alexandra Wright and Stephen Tyler Howell in Macbethx5. Photo by Enci Box.

Stephen Tyler Howell plays the title role, and as the only actor not doing double or more duty, he is able to show the character’s rise and fall with some subtlety. He looks like a young Charlton Heston and his Macbeth comes into his own as he starts to believe in his own invincibility (spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well).

Alexandra Wright as Lady M is clear and strong in her opportunistic ambition, this is a dutiful wife who is giving her husband the push he needs to get ahead. Her confused remorse at her wrong-doing reveals a previously unsuspected vulnerability.

Chase Cargill is impressive, particularly physically, as both Banquo and Macduff.

The pared down casting has some drawbacks; we never get to meet Lady Macduff, so the news of her death, however devastating to her husband, does not have any real emotional impact on the audience. Also Banquo seems to be not only the specter at the feast, but also the only guest.

The comedy relief of the notoriously difficult Porter scene seems even more out-of-place than usual. Nate Ruleaux has the requisite charm and energy but faces an up-hill battle.
Rosie Moss rounds out the cast with six smaller characters, all clearly delineated physically and vocally.

Production values are very high, the set, by John Iacovelli is very effective, light (Bosco Flanagan) shining through its semi-transparent fabric giving a supernatural feel to the world of the play. There is also good use of projections (Nicholas Santiago), and sound (Christopher Moscatiello).

The staging seeks to illuminate and there is nothing jarringly avant garde or anachronistic about it, it’s quite a purist, almost academic rendering of the play, and although sped up, it is certainly not dumbed down.

I was lucky enough to see the first night of this very polished production and I’m sure it will only improve as continues its run at the Odyssey.

Directed by Joel Asher
Movement Director Marisa Moses

Cast: Stephen Tyler Howell, Alexandra Wright, Chase Cargill, Rosie Moss, Nate Ruleaux

Scenic design by John Iocavelli
Lighting design by Bosco Flanagan
Sound design is by Christopher Moscatiello
Costume design by Denise Blasor
Video Projection by Nicholas Santiago

Photo (above) by Enci Box:  Stephen Tyler Howell (front) with Rosie Moss, Alexandra Wright, and Nate Ruleaux. 

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