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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Once Upon a Mattress

Rick Davis and Virginia Olivieri
Photo by Heather and Dana Butcher
William Shakespeare's Macbeth is receiving a daring, bare bones production from Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre that features lead performances filled with fire and forceful passion. The intensity of the play, which is the story of a couple so hungry for power that they choose murder to fulfill their ambitions, is made even more forceful in the small DST space. Rick Davis and Virginia Olivieri are delivering some of the best work I've ever seen them do as the murderous duo.

Shakespeare's tragedy involves elements of the supernatural to tell the tale of the Scottish General Macbeth. After three witches tell him of a prophecy that he will one day become King of Scotland, Macbeth decides to take matters into his own hands to make the prediction come true. His wife, Lady Macbeth, spurs him on and together they plot the murder of Duncan, the current King. But things spiral out of control, forcing Macbeth to oversee the murders of those who are threats to his keeping the throne. This killing spree takes its toll on both Macbeth and his wife and they both descend into madness.

Presenting a successful production of a play by Shakespeare, especially one as dramatic as Macbeth, requires a thorough knowledge of not only the language but the characters. The one thing that struck me from the very start of this production was that, even though it is a small community theatre production, the entire cast is completely invested in the plot, their characters, and most importantly their dialogue. While there may be a few, slight hiccups with the line delivery of a couple of ensemble members, no one is simply reciting words without understanding what they mean.

At the center of any production of this classic drama is the duo of Macbeth and his wife. Real life couple Rick Davis and Virginia Olivieri deliver searing and soaring portrayals of this deadly twosome. Davis is simply sensational as Macbeth in a performance of subtlety and depth. Davis efficiently shows the impatience and urgency that Macbeth feels once hearing the prophecy, yet his facial expressions and body language also effectively portray the nervousness he feels after his first killing. From being obsessed, anguished, paranoid and haunted, Davis expertly shows the wide range of feelings Macbeth experiences. His monologues are filled with an intense passion. This is an actor who knows Shakespeare and knows what needs to be done to ensure his portrayal of one of Shakespeare's most well-known characters is delivered exceptionally.

With a very slight Machiavellian grin occasionally sneaking out from beneath her steady demeanor, Olivieri projects a nice stoic counterbalance to Davis' more expressive performance. Yet we always know exactly what Lady Macbeth is thinking from the clarity in both Olivieri's line delivery and body language. She and Davis work well together, expertly feeding off of each other as they show the couple's constantly shifting power struggle. At first, Olivieri's domineering portrayal demonstrates Lady Macbeth's upper hand in this relationship, as if she is the forceful mastermind pulling Macbeth's puppet strings. But the control of the power shifts once the killing starts and the impact of the deaths chips away at Lady Macbeth's exterior. This culminates in a stunning sleepwalking scene where Olivieri's overcome nature, obsessive gestures, and darting eyes form a heartbreaking picture of this woman who feverishly tries to wash her hands clean of the blood of the people they've killed.

In the supporting cast, Jason Barth's Banquo is strong and courageous and, after Macbeth kills him, Barth is eerily unnerving as Banquo's ghost. Bryan N. Stewart is full of power and determination as Macduff, the man on a mission to kill Macbeth, and J. Kevin Tallent portrays several small parts with a chameleon-like grace, morphing form one role to another with ease. As the three witches, whose prophecy sets the play in motion, Megan Holcomb, Autumn Alton, and Diana Meyer are weird, comical and scary, which actually works quite well, and Holcomb also does good work as Macduff's distraught wife.

Director Gary Zaro, with contributions from Rick Davis's lean and muscular fight direction, makes good use of the small Actor's Café space to ensure the staging isn't too busy. While the set design is virtually non-existent, Mickey Courtney's costumes are stunning and expertly help to ground us in the time period of the play. Emmy Ant's lighting design delivers shifting imagery that helps pinpoint the action as well as some lush red hues throughout for the importance of the numerous killings, and his sound design incorporates numerous moody and striking effects.

The sheer beauty and power of Macbeth is in how Shakespeare's words show how ambition and deceit ultimately consume two individuals. DST's production may be sleek but it is extremely effective and incredibly powerful with especially riveting performances.

Macbeth, at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, through June 4th, 2017. For tickets and information, call 480-483-1664 or visit

Director: Gary Zaro
Fight Director/ Choreographer: Rick Davis
Costume Design: Mickey Courtney
Wigs/ Make-Up Design: Matthew Harris, Virginia Olivieri
Lighting / Sound Design: Emmy Ant
Properties: Stephanie Yampolsky
Weaponry: Preferred Arms
Stage Manager: Dorann Matson

Macbeth: Rick Davis
Lennox: Al Benneian
Duncan, Siward: Charles Sowder
Ross, Porter, 3rd Murderer, Doctor: J. Kevin Tallent
Malcolm, 2nd Murderer: Dustin Noga
Macduff: Bryan N. Stewart
Donalbain, Menteith, 1st Murderer: Reece O'Connor
Banquo, Caithness, Seyton, Captain: Jason Barth
Lady Macbeth: Virginia Olivieri
2nd Witch, Lady Macduff, Gentlewoman: Megan Holcomb
Third Witch, Old Woman: Autumn Alton
1st Witch, Servant, Messenger: Diana Meyer
Fleance, Macduff's Son: Joshua Boenzi

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