Review: Shakespeare Downtown’s “Macbeth” a True Ensemble Piece

 Macbeth

Written by William Shakespeare

Co-directed by Geoffrey Horne and Alec Baldwin

Presented by Shakespeare Downtown at Castle Clinton National Monument

The Battery (Battery Park), Manhattan, NYC

June 13-23, 2024

Tickets are free and available at the door of Castle Clinton National Monument at the Battery at 5:45 p.m. on the day of the performance.

Billie Andersson & Alfredo Diaz. Photo by Amy Goossens
While Shakespeare’s tragedies generally encourage focus around one (or two) tragic figures, Shakespeare Downtown’s Macbeth, directed by Geoffrey Horne and Alec Baldwin, cogently reminds that, like the comedies, they are truly ensemble pieces necessitating a large and adept cast to effectively tell their stories. In a production such as this (indeed, with Shakespeare in general), with very minimal set and other effects at its disposal, the actors must do the lion’s share of work to make it a success. Alfredo Diaz’s Macbeth and Billie Andersson’s Lady Macbeth certainly shone in key moments, particularly the banquet scene in which Macbeth sees the recently murdered Banquo’s ghost, yet it was the range and talent of the rest of the cast that drove this production.

The three witches who foretell (precipitate?) Macbeth’s rise to power and subsequently his fall are a crucial and much debated aspect of this play, and productions of Macbeth tend to be quite creative with their portrayal of these characters. Clad in simple black that differed from the rest of the cast only in their costumes’ lack of embellishments, Jazz-Ella Reveilleau, Scarlett Strasberg, and Jade India Kelly as the three witches captivated with their command of the text and their cohesion as a group. A number of production choices involving the witches promoted reflection on their role in the play, whether they are mere prophets or whether their pronouncements inspire Macbeth to act in the first place. Although their play-opening lines are spoken from off stage, when they first appear and interact with Macbeth and Banquo, the second witch (Scarlett Strasberg) has the palms of her hands painted in blood seemingly to indicate the bloodshed that will ensue once they speak to Macbeth. Additionally, the witches are present onstage during Macduff’s defeat of Macbeth, even escorting Macduff off stage at the end, suggesting that they are controlling the outcome.

A number of other characters, even if less central to the play’s main themes than the witches, enhanced the production. Although he played a number of small roles, Evan Olson was at his best as the hilarious Porter, in a scene of comic relief following the earth-shattering murder of King Duncan. The Scottish nobles Macduff (Gjemund Gjesme), Lennox (Ramiro Batista), and Ross (Alexander Thomas) were especially effective in their roles, and Juan Pablo Toro shone as the First Murder, at once devious, cheeky, and wicked. The youngest cast members, Bryce Washington as Fleance and Monte Greene as Macduff’s Son, though they have relatively minor roles, showed a great deal of promise.

The strength of the cast as a whole seemed especially fitting to the play’s conclusion, in which all characters, both living and dead, came on stage to collectively crown Fleance as king. While the play might track the rise and fall of one, it is ultimately the actions of many that create the conditions for that rise and fall, for the existence of a monarch himself.

-Stephanie Pietros

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