What turns someone who is described as “once a good man” into a bloody, merciless murderer of so many? Great Lakes Theater (GLT) takes on this hefty inquiry in the current production of William Shakespeare’s MACBETH, running now through April 15, 2018 at the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square. Directed by Producing Artistic Director, Charles Fee, the dark and damned piece is gorgeously thick with the foibles of human ambition.
Set in Scotland, the play was written in 1606 and is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Conceived in times of political upheaval and power transference questions, Shakespeare produces this plot:
Three witches (or Weird Sisters) prophesize Macbeth’s rise to the throne, promising his friend Banquo equal fortune. Macbeth returns home to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who encourages him to kill the current King Duncan. Once the foul deed is complete, Macbeth turns against Banquo, and both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start to have haunting visions. Macbeth begins a bloody rampage on the kingdom, the witches provide more strange messages, and Macduff (assisted by Malcolm) finally confronts the mad King.
There is deep superstition involved with the play. According to Wikipedia, “Productions of MACBETH are said to have been plagued with accidents.” Some say that the witches’ incantations were taken from actual covens of the time. Others claim that an actor actually died in the Scottish play’s premiere when a real dagger accidentally replaced a fake one. Some believe that only theaters that are about to go under produce the production as a last resort in order to bolster sales. For all of these “reasons” and more, many dare not speak the name “Macbeth” in a physical theater setting, except for within a rehearsal or performance of the actual piece. If one were to utter the name of “The Bard’s Piece” by name, one would have to leave the building, turn around three times, spit and swear, and then knock to be let back inside in order to break the curse.
LUCKILY, no curses seem to have fallen upon the GLT production, which is rich in sights, sounds and beautiful words.
The story magic and mystery begins with the appearance of the three witches, played by Laura Welsh Berg, Meredith Lark, and Jodi Dominick. Their eerie bat-like costuming makes them mystical and creepy. Their synchronicity makes them other-worldly and terrifying. They weave their words and cast their spells, setting Macbeth in motion.
Audience members will recognize many commonly-known lines and sayings from MACBETH, including the witches’ “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
Lynn Robert Berg is a staggering Macbeth. The character is large and lost in his grab for power. He states, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.” But is it chance, or fate, or “something wicked this way comes” that puts the crown upon his head? Is it his own impetuousness that brings him to his downfall? Or perhaps it’s the impatience of his wife? Berg’s poise is regal, his delivery is royal, his ruthless character’s demise is luscious.
Erin Partin is a slithering Lady Macbeth. Conniving and plotting, the character has but one goal: power. With a confident energy and a deliberate command of every moment on the stage, Partin’s Lady Macbeth is willful, alive and unstoppable… or is she? “Out, damned spot; out, I say,” she pleads in a dream state. The blood on her hands haunts her to the end.
Fee has gathered the talent in the entire company to create a wholly experiential tragedy. All cogs in the wheel of the cast, crew and staff have turned together a serious and conversation-worthy production.
Special mention goes to the lighting (Rick Martin) and scenic (Russell Metheny) designers, as the multi-tiered set full of flickering candles, and lighting with a cryptic ambiance immediately transports the audience to another realm. Also noted is the interesting “immersive seating” on the stage for lucky theater-goers who want to experience the action up close and personal!
Final design nods go to the costume designer (Kim Krumm Sorenson) for the engaging period pieces with updated materials, as well as sound designer (Matthew Webb) for the intense interludes and underscores.
Clocking in around 2 hours plus a 15-minute intermission, the show’s second act has a bit better pacing, which is helpful for this Shakespeare play that is so very wordy. Although it can get bogged down by figuring who is who at first, the general action is well-played and smooths out for easier understanding overall as the performance progresses. Pay. Close. Attention.
MACBETH is not a light-hearted piece that can be nonchalantly followed without care. Shakespeare and GLT have crafted many layers worth pondering and savoring: do both.
MACBETH runs at the Hanna Theatre now through April 15, 2018. Tickets are $15-$80 (student pricing is available) and can be purchased by calling 216-241-6000, or visiting www.playhousesquare.org.