By Kevin Zimmerman
Watching a production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” can often transport a viewer back to a 12th-grade English class.
Yes, this tragedy of a man’s ambitious climb to the throne — complete with an ever-mounting body count — can seem purely academic, something to master in order to be considered educated. But the play written about 400 years ago still speaks to mankind’s foibles when it comes to achievement at any cost.
The Queens Players’ new uneven staging of the tragedy, which opened last week at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, doesn’t speak to the audience so much as yell at it.
Act I opens as the three witches, dressed as wood nymphs chanting and dancing in the woods, prepare to tell Macbeth that he will one day be king of Scotland. The blonde trio then serve as a Greek chorus for the reminder of the proceedings with at least one of them on stage at all times. They cackle. They shriek. They roll on the ground. They don’t, however, do any of it with subtlety.
Enter King Duncan and the rest of his army, all dressed like characters from the Mel Gibson film “Braveheart,” who proceed to clash swords and grunt their way back to the castle. Jim Anderson, who takes on two other roles besides Duncan, envelopes the role of king: big, beefy and jovial. As one audience member said after the curtain, “it’s too bad he had to be killed so early on.” Of course, without Duncan’s death, there wouldn’t be much of a play.
Other standouts in the cast include R. Alex Murray, who brings some much-needed comic relief as Macbeth’s drunken and obscene porter; John Cormier, who provides the play’s voice of reason as Banquo; and John Zdrojeski as Macduff. Zdrojeski makes the most of the big dramatic scene after his character is told his wife and children have been murdered. The emotion is real and incredibly raw as he is barely able to get out the words through his tears.
But this show really belongs to Rachel Cornish and her amazing turn as the real power behind the man: Lady Macbeth.
Quite possibly the first diva to appear in English literature, Lady Macbeth is a woman who wants to be queen and sees to it that her husband accomplishes her goal.
Cornish plays up Lady Macbeth’s sexuality and ambition to perfection. She is single-minded in her actions and keeps Macbeth in line, especially when his guilt starts to toy with his reality. She also knows when to give negative reinforcement to keep her mission on track.
As Macbeth begins to see Banquo’s ghost around the castle, the king is in danger of blowing their cover story.
“Are you a man?” Lady Macbeth hisses at one point to a foundering king.
Cornish plays Lady Macbeth as ice princess during her assent to power and masterfully shows the lady’s descent into madness.
Director Alberto Bonilla keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and excels at making the numerous battle scenes and murders seem real and, in the case of Lady Macduff’s demise, almost ballet-like. Bonilla is interested in exploring the evil in men’s hearts and the concept that, as he writes in the program, “we all have the potential for both Hitler and Gandhi in our minds and hearts; we are defined only by what stops us from tipping one way or the other.”
It’s the tipping, however, that makes great drama.
A point that Cornish relishes and plays to near perfection — damn spots and all.
If you go
The Queens Players production of “Macbeth”
When: Through July 27, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m, Sunday at 7 p.m.
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City
Contact: (718) 392-0722