At the top of the conventional wisdom list is the assumption that if you do a play of William Shakespeare in an outdoor setting, you must choose a comedy or a romance. Under no circumstance should you do a tragedy outside.
Saratoga Shakespeare proves that theory wrong. The company is offering a terrific production of “Macbeth” in Saratoga’s Congress Park that is as riveting as it is compelling. This is a first-rate production of a very difficult play that continues through July 27. It’s being offered free, but it is so good you might feel guilty if you don’t drop something in the donation basket at the show's end.
This effort does not attempt to break new ground showing why the trusted Macbeth turns traitor and murders his king to become ruler of Scotland. Indeed, it becomes obvious as to why he kills off everyone he sees as a threat to his tyrannical reign.
Rather than search for motivations that really don’t exist in the text, the performers instead create characters who behave in logical ways when temptation, revenge or lust dictates a course of action.
Key to using this approach is that the performers must clearly understand human nature and have the talent to define the frailties of their characters.
Those skills are evident in the performances of the key roles, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth. Tim Dugan and Amy Prothro play the couple as a sensuous pair who are physically drawn to each other. Their approach not only defines their mutual attraction, it adds an essential earthiness to their personalities that makes their impetuous choices seem like natural patterns of behavior.
Dugan as Macbeth is as magnetic as the man who’s ego and overblown sense of self is a flaw that leads to his destruction. Prothro is equally ambitious and maybe even more ruthless, but her problem is that even though she lacks a conscience, she does understand consequences of behavior.
Key roles in the production are performed by professional actors who were with the now-defunct New York State Theatre Institute. They make for a solid supporting cast that supports the strong leads.
David Bunce is outstanding as he plays Macduff as an intense, determined, single-minded man bent on vengeance for Macbeth’s slaughter of his family. That slaughter is a terrifically staged moment that is important in showing the brutality of Macbeth. It’s made even more gruesome, thanks to six-year old Eleanor Baecker, whose death will affect every parent in the audience and give them motivation to cheer on Macduff in his well-staged climatic battle with Macbeth.
John Romeo brings dignity to his portrayal of King Duncan and comedy to his work as the drunken Porter, as well as a touch of mysticism to the Scottish doctor. David Baecker is initially a robust figure as the loyal Banquo and later his ominous ghostly presence could get him cast on TV’s “Walking Dead.”
Not all in the cast are professional actors but they are all good actors. Skidmore College student Woody Proctor shines as Duncan’s son Malcom. Leigh Strimbeck makes the most of the small role of Lady Macduff. Christine Doidge, Christine Pardos and Callan Suozzi-Rearie add a needed eeriness to the three witches.
When a production is this focused it means a strong directorial hand is guiding the work. David Girard has not only nursed strong individual performances from his cast, he has weaved them into a cohesive whole, intent on telling a story of how power can corrupt an individual.
“Macbeth” is the most mature production I’ve seen at Saratoga Shakespeare in its 14 year history. It should be supported.
“Macbeth” Saratoga Shakespeare in Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. Through July 27. Performances 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Performed without intermission. Admission free.
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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