The Scottish Play has always been viewed as fast and furious, with some thought that scenes may have been lost along the way. Character development is at a minimum, yet we still find ourselves connecting to and relating with Macbeth and his fatal decisions. It’s difficult to determine whether Macbeth is the victim of fate, or the master of his own universe, so much so that both possibilities must be considered when judging this character. Perhaps this is how we judge our own missteps in life. Perhaps this is why we can connect with Macbeth as a tragic hero rather than a villain.
It seems as though director Jeremy Cole considers both fate and choice in his fast-paced production of Macbeth by way of the Weird Sisters. The witches, played by Martha Stookey, Carrie Smith, and Molly Holcomb, are Shakespeare’s representation of the past, present, and future, not necessarily in that order. They are Destiny; they are the Fates. On this stage, the witches are not only omnipotent and omniscient; they are also omnipresent, onstage even when “off.” This omnipresence leads one to question whether the Sisters are truly omniscient, or if they are just calling it like they see it, and providing Macbeth with choices. What do I mean by this? The Weird Sisters do their usual cackle, brew, and conjure, and well, at that; but they also take on other roles without completely stepping out of their original, witchy characters. For instance, the play begins; the witches meet; fair is foul and foul is fair, and with a wave of her red cape, witch becomes bleeding Captain, telling of Macbeth’s heroic exploits on the battlefield. No costume change, no scene change, just a turn and a flow into character. More vividly, Stookey, plays the head-witch, and takes on the role of the Scottish thane, Lennox. Stookey delivers her lines as Lennox with all the look and intonation of her omniscient doppelganger, leaving the audience to question who is whom, and who knows what. My only problem with this tactic is that it can be confusing for someone who is relatively unfamiliar with the play. I can imagine that some of my audience members were trying to figure out why one of the witches was hanging out at court, but it is also the most brilliant part of Cole’s production, and luckily it weaves in and out of the play from beginning to end.
Creative costuming is somewhat lacking with the Subterranean players. These actors visually fulfill the waiter-actor stereotype in their black and white, polyester-vested attire, with golden bands around the heads of royalty. It’s forgivable; costumes are expensive, and as a Shakespeare purist, I need (and get not) an expensive and ornate set to enjoy Macbeth. What I do need are good ideas that are well executed. I like Cole. I like that he sometimes beats his audience over the head with a concept (hearken back to his 2006 production of Richard III, and the always present and echoing Queen Margaret). I also like his mirroring synchronicities, such a our seductive Lady Macbeth (Stephanie DeMott) who, upstage, embraces her husband from behind while manipulating his ear to act and kill, and later downstage, Stookey embraces Macbeth (Paul Jennings) in the same fashion.
Jennings and DeMott work well together, and their chemistry is apparent, but Jennings alone is a bit stiff in his interpretation and delivery, making connection with this Macbeth difficult. This is unfortunate, considering this connection is necessary if we are to empathize with Macbeth and see him as human. DeMott, however, is engaging, and her growing distraction mesmerizing. I do believe I actually saw the invisible blood on our Lady’s hands as she tried in vain to rub it out. I hardly even noticed the kicked over candle or the blown lights above as she wiped and rubbed her hands.
Thanks to Jack of all trades Halton for scooping up the candle and saving us all. Tried and true Shakespearean Jack Halton wears many hats in this production. The kindly, yet ill-fated Duncan; a drunken Porter crawling across the stage with a hunk of cheese (this is a Porter I won’t soon forget); a Priest (in Macbeth?); a Murderer; and the Doctor. I do hope Halton was well paid for his revolving door of characters.
Lynn-Audrey Tijerina, who plays both Banquo and Lady Macduff, is a welcome presence on the stage. Her delivery and timing are impeccable throughout. I was unimpressed by Ben Grubb as Macduff until I was pleasantly surprised and deeply touched by his reaction to the murder of his wife and children. All his “pretty chickens and their dam.” His heartfelt monologue, his knees hitting the stage, and Barber’s Adagio coming from above creates something beautiful and bittersweet.
Opening night flubs occur. Broken lights and falling candles, a stuttered line here and there. I was shocked to hear artistic director Geoffrey Pond call the play by its name within the theatre. ‘Tis the Scottish Play, man! (forgive my superstitions), and on opening night, you need all the luck you can muster. This production has its share of weak actors, mostly in lesser roles, but if I can play Fate for a moment here, loosen Jennings tie, hire an electrician to make sure every scene is enlightened and not lost, and perhaps conjure a little luck, I believe Cole’s good production can only get better.