Iowa Nice in a cage match12/17/2014
If anyone has established Iowa as a center for performance, it’s Scott Seipker. In 2012, Seipker’s sardonic “Iowa Nice” videos propelled him into gigs with ESPN and IPTV. Yet he began in theater, first
at Iowa State University and then in small Des Moines venues. He often worked with Brendan Dunphy, whose productions of Irish plays were regular features at the early Social Club. Dunphy, too, has since landed on TV programs, his on the Animal Planet and Discovery channels.
“Macbeth,” then, marks a welcome return to the stage for both. Seipker has set up his own theater company (named for the state bird) and mustered talents both known and unknown. The choice of play — Shakespeare’s darkest — seems a risk at Christmastime, but doesn’t that very risk deserve applause?
On opening night, the answer was, “yes, mostly.” Not wholly, alas, because a couple of secondary characters let things go slack.
At its best, the production rushes toward a train wreck, and its power owes a lot to the leads. Seipker plays the title role; Dunphy plays his antagonist, Macduff; and Tiffany Flory matches their intensity, volatile and mesmerizing as Lady Macbeth. Once Macbeth murders his king, however, the crown rightfully belongs to prince Malcolm, and Tanner Hoegh never seemed to deserve it. He seemed apathetic and flat-faced even as he toys with Macduff, testing his loyalty.
Such disappointments, happily, were limited. Another minor player, Yvette Zarod Hermann, was a lively presence as one of the three witches. Those “weird sisters,” as the script calls them, often induced chills, especially when director Kristin Larson had them speak in unison, but each at a different pitch.
Technical elements, as you might expect given Seipker’s and Dunphy’s TV experience, proved spot-on. You entered the Dark Ages looking over Ian Mostrom’s set. Its gray stone flooring turned bone-white, now and again, with a change in the lighting. Creepier still was the original music by Jonathan Brown, its groans suggesting metal stressed to the breaking point.
“Macbeth” comes down to a final cage match, and Seipker and Dunphy deliver. John Graham’s fight choreography deserves some of the credit, but it wouldn’t work without two actors who trust each other to the point of (almost) drawing blood. Dunphy is such a Samurai that, even listening to one of the play’s few jokes, he grasps the neck of his chest-plate, knuckles showing. As for Seipker, his stare alone develops tremendous power — more threatening and paranoid. Yet this heightens the impact when he hears of his wife’s death, and his face drops. He groans one of the play’s most famous lines toward the floor, in a heartrending farewell to his own last shred of goodness: “out, out brief candle…” CV
Overheard in the Lobby: The newCloris Awards for Des Moines theater garnered a congratulatory article in New York’s “Playbill.”
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.