Macbeth at PICT Classic Theatre | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Macbeth at PICT Classic Theatre

David Whalen, as the eponymous king, is a sight to behold

David Whalen and Gayle Pazerski in Macbeth, at PICT Classic Theatre
Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons
David Whalen and Gayle Pazerski in Macbeth, at PICT Classic Theatre

Murder, mayhem and witchcraft: Is there a more Halloween-appropriate play from Shakespeare than Macbeth? PICT Classic Theatre pulls out all the stops for this incarnation of the proverbial Scottish play, remaining faithful enough to please purists while adding a tinge of avant-garde sensibilities.   

This is a show that triumphs or falls based on the title character, and in that regard, PICT's Macbeth does not disappoint. David Whalen, as the eponymous king, is a sight to behold. While there are a number of strong turns among the supporting players, Whalen commands the stage in a way that eclipses those around him. His textured performance runs the gamut from joy to guilt to the inevitable megalomania, yet at no point does he waver from the core of his conflicted character.

The relationship between Macbeth and Gayle Pazerski's Lady Macbeth commences on a strong, almost playful note, but ultimately, director Alan Stanford chooses not to focus too tightly on the nuances of the couple's rapport. In some ways, this is a shame because, if cultivated, the natural chemistry between Whalen and Pazerski could have contributed an even deeper level of tragedy to the performance. But when half your characters are slaughtered by curtain call, there's probably more than enough misfortune to go around.

Despite the strength of the cast, the production is not without its limitations. Although an interesting stylistic choice, the slow-motion battle sequences become a bit tedious, especially by the final act. Likewise, the gloomy lighting and omnipresent fog imbue the stage with a deeper sense of dread, but a few key moments are at times difficult to see.

Michael Montgomery's costume design takes several unusual risks: eschewing all forms of footwear and cladding Karen Baum's witch goddess Hecate in a get-up that would look at home in a '90s goth club. Still, these are the little touches that set this staging of Macbeth apart from other Shakespeare productions. Although a tried-and-true interpretation tends to placate audiences, a modern edge is what makes it unforgettable.