Saturday, August 20, 2016

Till Birnam Wood...


Till Birnam Wood… is an adaptation of Macbeth presented by John Schultz as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. At the show’s opening actors crawl on to the stage under a curtain. They say “Tis time,” and that’s our cue to put on our blindfolds, which we will keep on for the entire show.

In the darkness, simple sounds like pats on the back, a kiss or the clinking of daggers become utterly eloquent. And the word “Horror”, shouted  out when Duncan’s death is discovered, evokes a deliciously gruesome image.

From time to time the Weird Sisters are heard, panting or whispering eerily under the dialogue, all the more weird for being unseen. And there’s a musical drone under the dialogue sometimes that’s effective, not intrusive.

In less creative hands the result would merely be a sort of living radio, just sound without sight. But Mr. Schultz, who’s directed the show, uses the fact of a shared space with imagination, and the show is absorbing as live theater.

The playing area consists of two narrow corridors forming a cross in the small space. The cross creates four quadrants where the audience sits, the actors gliding among us. The players’ locations take on a heavy artistic heft. Sound is thrown into relief. Sometimes actors move from side to side compulsively. This is so interesting to hear that we don’t care if there’s any dramatic motivation for the movement. Sound that moves is fascinating. It becomes alive.

No one could say this cast holds anything back; the actors deliver their lines with abandon, at the height of intensity. It’s not great Shakespearian interpretation, but it creates a sort of hyperemotionalism that’s right for the concept.

This isn’t a Macbeth for the uninitiated. Without visuals, some passages wouldn’t be clear to anyone who’s not familiar with the play. When Lady Macbeth reads the letter from Macbeth, for example, we can’t see that she’s reading. But this would be the case with a radio production as well, and we wouldn’t have as much fun through radio.

There are even modest special effects. The actors sprinkle water on us at one point and they spread scent at the end of the play.

The play is highly abridged, and Schultz is wise to keep the production short. It lasts scarcely more than an hour. There are 14 characters and eight actors. Still, I’d like to see Schultz’ work enhanced and expanded. It’s great to see such creative work coming from the fringe. After all, experimentation like this is what the fringe does best.

Steve Capra
August 2016