By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The perpetually eclectic Shakespeare in Washington festival at last has discovered a performer who, with eerie perfection, inhabits Macbeth's line "False face must hide what false heart doth know."
Washington, meet the aptly named Mr. Smile, the star of Tiny Ninja Theater's clever "Macbeth" over the past two nights at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.
Mr. Smile is a toy merely the size of a half dollar, yet his plastic smiley-face commanded director Dov Weinstein's tabletop stage, which was filled with ninja figurines the height of a quarter (only Mrs. Smile, as Lady Macbeth, was the leading man's equal in stature). The big-headed Smiles captured the ego and ambition raging inside these tragic characters, just as the coiled postures of the little, from-the-vending-machine-born ninjas created an aura of taut action for Shakespeare's briefest play.
"Macbeth" was double-extra-brief in this incarnation, which lasted less than 40 minutes. This was "Macbeth" as a third-grade fever dream, with Weinstein pausing portentously, black-gloved hands hovering godlike over the stage, before unleashing Shakespearean mayhem while making sounds like "whoosh!" and "spluh-uh-uh-AGH!"
Patrons unable to secure front-row seats might have missed the ingenuity of Weinstein's cardboard settings and props, the effective use of a cheap, battery-powered light, a miniature laser pointer, Scotch tape, etc. But the Kennedy Center anticipated that: The performance was projected on a large screen behind the stage.
Audience reaction was mixed, and to be fair, the show at times had a plastic quality, notwithstanding Weinstein's grave baritone and excited falsetto voices for the entire cast. Also, one suspects the puckish humor was slightly more concentrated back when Weinstein performed for small audiences in tight rooms.
Still, the language is genuine Shakespeare, and perhaps Macbeth's grimly murmured "All is but toys" has never been heard to better effect.
Tiny Ninja Theater next performs Romeo and Juliet, today and tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Admission is free; call 202-467-4600 or visit http://www.kennedy-center.org.