Rocket City Shakespeare (RCS) opened Macbeth this past weekend, and it continues next weekend, in the basement (Rm 106) of Morton Hall on the UAH Campus.  They don’t have many seats left, but even taking a chance on the waiting list will be worth your time–this is a quality production.

Macbeth is the pseudo-historical account of a real-life Scottish king in the 11th century who killed his predecessor, and was killed in turn.  Shakespeare, as usual when he worked from historical sources, took the bare facts and added some (i.e. a lot of) poetic license to make it more entertaining.  And entertaining this production is.  Rocket City Shakespeare has a very visceral production that works quite well in the intimate space.

Depending on how one looks at it, Macbeth is the shortest Shakespeare play, and this production zips along at a bare two hours, even with intermission.  And that’s a good thing–this is one of the more famous of the Bard’s plays for good reason.  It’s a tight, well-constructed piece, and the direction by Mandy Hughes and Lee Hibbard uses that to full effect, keeping the action flowing quickly.  Overall, the staging and pacing of the show are well done.  While there are some moments and scenes that don’t quite hit the mark they should, the storyline and characterizations generally shine through the Elizabethan language.  The cast has a clear understanding of the script and, for the most part, it is easy to forget that one is listening to 400-year old dialogue.  The directorial choices made on the use of the three witches throughout the play is especially well done, providing essential atmosphere to the entire production.

And that touches on an overall positive point about this production–the use of “theatrical” elements to ease the audience’s understanding of the dialogue.  Shakespeare is famous in theatre circles as being notoriously difficult, and not for the faint of heart, but it is difficult BECAUSE it is hard to make it understandable to a modern audience watching it live, in real-time, without the benefit of the months of intense line study and analysis that the cast and production staff have.  This RCS production makes masterful use of sound effects, costumes, lighting, and props to aid the audience in following and understanding the action.

Chad Allen Thomas, as Macbeth, has a commanding voice and wonderful diction with the Shakespearean dialogue, making it very easy for the audience to follow.  While his acting choices sometimes seem at odds with what the script calls for in the moment (and the famous “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech is sadly given no extra weight whatsoever), he is still a strong, commanding presence onstage and carries the show forward with what seems effortless ease.  Macbeth is one of the best stage villains of all time, and managing to portray him as a real person on a real journey of internal struggle, while speaking iambic pentameter no less, is no small task.  Thomas does a fine job of giving the audience someone they love to hate.

Amy Pugh Patel, as Lady Macbeth, is a special stand-out among the cast, providing a wonderful portrayal of the strong wife, pushing her husband to greatness whether he wants it or not.  The sleepwalking scene towards the end misses the mark a bit in its choices–showing that Lady Macbeth has gone insane does not require that she “act crazy”–but Patel nevertheless gives a commanding performance.  Unlike for the title character, Shakespeare didn’t write scenes portraying Lady Macbeth’s journey into darkness, merely the start and end of the transition, and Patel shows nice range in portraying both ends of that spectrum.

Larkin Grant, Sarah Kamel, and Shawn Murdock, as the witches, as well as filling in for other small parts, are a wonderful team onstage throughout.  Tyler Henderson, as Ross, carries a fine stage presence in his limited role, and one hopes he returns for larger parts in the future.  Mandy Hughes, the creative force behind RCS, does a masterful job as Duncan, the short-lived Scottish king at the top of the show; and Lorie Gill Hubscher is completely convincing as Macduff, the face of those suffering from Macbeth’s cruelties.

On a bit of a side note, this reviewer has to say, as a theatre person, it gave him the creeps to even be typing the name of this play, but he couldn’t in fairness use “the Scottish play” throughout and be sure that all the readers would understand.  If you happen to NOT understand the reference, feel free to ask any long-time theatre person, and get indoctrinated into one of the community’s fun superstitions (and one that many theatre people take VERY seriously…).

Overall, RCS’ production of Macbeth is a fine contribution to the Shakespearean world.  The venue is very small (seating only 42), and seats are almost sold out, but definitely make the effort to pick up one of the last remaining tickets, or get yourself onto the waiting list.  You won’t regret it.  Final performances for RCS’ Macb…errrr….The Scottish Play are this Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM.  Tickets can be reserved here or find them on Facebook by searching “Rocket City Shakespeare”.

Since Shakespeare IS Shakespeare, after all, and this reviewer has the temerity to voice opinions, he feels the need to “show his credentials” a little, this one time.  In addition to the occasional community theatre Shakespeare production, this reviewer also worked with an Equity Shakespeare company for three seasons, acting in seven productions, and serving as fight choreographer for three.