Elm Shakespeare Company's "Macbeth:" Outdoors, The Woods Really Do Come Alive

Elm Shakespeare Company's "Macbeth:" Outdoors, The Woods Really Do Come Alive
James Andreassi and Marianna Bassham are featured in "Macbeth" by the Elm Shakespeare Company (Handout)

The show

: William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by the Elm Shakespeare Company, in Edgerton Park, in New Haven.


First impressions: It was a dark and stormy night...Well, it wasn’t exactly stormy. It was a lovely evening, in fact, but it was dark, and with the tall trees around the park it felt kind of spooky, especially with the sound effects of thunder and drums which were real cool and — oh yes, on the stage the theater company was performing “Macbeth,” quite well mostly, sometimes. The set was humongous, there was the great Alvin Epstein on stage, the production was often grand and it was, overall, a swell way to spend a summer evening in New Haven.

But more about the show?:

Well, like so many fine outdoor summer companies around Connecticut, the show is an important part of the theater-in-the-park experience but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Clearly, when a show is awful, no amount of summer breeze and bountiful picnic hampers will save the day — or night. But other than those hugely misguided efforts, we grade on a curve.

And here?: A respectable production that actually benefits from its outdoor foliage, the sound effects, the epic multi-tiered stage, the big-playing style, the battle scenes and the energetic staging by Allyn Burrows who is also artistic director of the Boston-based Actors Shakespeare Project.

Elm Shakespeare Company’s artistic director James Andreassi is the lead here and in the first performance of the run on Thursday night he got off to a shaky start but grew in performance strength as his character’s world began to crumble.

And the rest of the cast?:

Uneven but most of the major players are quite good and well-spoken. Marianna Bassham plays Lady Macbeth with fiendish authority — though these was little chemistry or connection between the conniving couple. Josh Wills proves to be a forceful Duncan; Mark Zeisler is solid as Banquo; Sarah Grace Wilson is fine as Lady Macduff and Colin Lane is often riveting as Macduff, when he isn’t milking his moments.

There should also be a special mention about the great Alvin Epstein, now 87, who plays the Porter and later in the production returns as the Doctor who observes the madness of Lady Macbeth. The actor, whose distinguished career goes back to the U.S. premiere of “Waiting for Godot” in the ‘50s — is still a mighty presence on stage, speaking Shakespeare’s words with clarity, heart and understanding.

Who will like it?:

Fans of free theater (and who isn’t, though donations are requested), environmental theater lovers, those who like their Bard played (more or less) traditionally, mosquitoes.

Who won't?:

Those who like their Shakespeare productions with walls.

For the kids?: For the older ones, it’s a good show to experience the Bard, but brief them first on the busy storyline and characters. Also tell them of the difference between Shakespeare in the Park and a drive-in movie about the X-Men.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less?:


“Macbeth” al fresco packs a punch (as well as a picnic) and is great way to say ‘so long’ to summer.

Thoughts on leaving the parking space?: This is the not-for-profit theater group’s 17th season and it’s become a summer staple in New Haven. It’s a gem.

The basics:

“Macbeth” is presented at Edgerton Park, 75 Cliff St., New Haven through Sept. 2. Performances are this week through Sunday, Aug. 21 to 26, Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, all at 8 p.m. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes without an intermission. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $20 for adults and $10 students. A blanket or chair is suggested for the outdoor venue and picnics are encouraged. Information is at