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Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
by William Shakespeare, etc.
Directed by Sean Patrick Higgins and Kelly Hummert
Rebel and Misfits Productions
October 25, 2018

Sean Patrick HIggins, Kelly Hummert
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Rebel and Misfits Productions

So, you park your car at a sports bar in Soulard, get on a bus, and are transported to Scotland–or an alternate universe Scotland that’s the invention of the devisers in a truly creative immersive theatre production of Macbeth that’s happening right now in St. Louis. Macbeth: Come Like Shadows is an inventive, confrontational, well-thought-out and strongly cast production that puts you into the middle of the story.

Macbeth: Come Like Shadows is immersive, but it’s also a play. Essentially, it’s a straightforward production of Macbeth in an unusual setting, with a few additions to the script and an additional devised pre-show that adds further context to the production. The setting is more or less modern, in an alternate reality in which Scotland has been taken over by an extreme right-wing dictator and freedom of expression has been severely limited. Most of the context, though, comes from the pre-show, in which audience members wander through the performance space in a semi-restored former church building and overhear conversations among the various characters, including the dictatorial Duncan¬† (Jeff Cummings) and his son Malcolm (Paul Cereghino), who is not inclined toward leadership. There’s also Lady Macbeth (Kelly Hummert), who is disillusioned for many reasons, including Duncan’s policies, the absence of her soldier husband (Sean Patrick Higgins), and a recent personal disappointment that she shares with her close companions Bianca (Patrice Foster) and Lady Macduff (Hailey Medrano), who has a new baby and is also missing her husband (Spencer Sickmann), who is currently at war and seems to never be home. Milling about the sanctuary that also includes a skate park, audience members can witness these various conversations and get an idea of the secretive, overly authoritarian regime, before Macbeth and Banquo (Shane Signorino) arrive and are confronted by the Weird Sisters (Tielere Cheatem, Alison Linderer, Cynthia Pohlson) to signal the beginning of the more linear play. The pre-show adds a lot of context to the interpretation of the characters and situations here, and the result is a chilling portrayal of a highly realistic situation, dealing with issues such as the polarization of society, totalitarianism, ambition, and the corruption of power. The up-close-and-personal arrangement brings the audience into the action as participants in the action, cast as war refugees and, at times, split into groups as part of the story, so this is a play that may be worth seeing–and experiencing–more than once, because depending on where you stand and what numbers are stamped onto your hand and wrist at the entry point, the experience can vary dramatically.

The setting, the backstory, and some new twists on the characters make this a whole new take on Macbeth, with more focus on the central couple, and on Lady M in particular, as well as some different context and reasoning behind their ambitions, as well as a drastically different interpretation of several characters, especially Duncan, Malcolm, and even the witches, who here seem more like ethereal mystical figures. Lady M, as embodied in a bold performance by Hummert, is every bit her husband’s partner here, and his rise to power is also hers, which makes her ultimate unraveling even more devastating. The obvious affection and attraction between the Macbeths is readily apparent as well, as the chemistry between Hummert and Higgins is palpable. Higgins’ journey from ambition to power is also made more personal here, and especially jarring in a key scene in which he gives a speech that says one thing, while the actions of his army around him seems to say something chillingly different. There are strong performances all around, from Sickmann’s single-minded Macduff, to Medrano’s neglected Lady Macduff, to Foster’s devoted Bianca, to the otherworldly Weird Sisters of Cheatem, Linderer, and Pohlson, as well as Cummings’s coolly pragmatic Duncan and Cereghino’s conflicted Malcolm.¬† It’s a bold, visceral, confrontational production that works on many levels, from the presentational to the personal.

Technically, the production values are impressive. The performance space poses particular challenges from its sheer size to its age, but the world of the play has been well realized here by Rebel and MIsfits’ technical team. Joe Novak’s set mostly consists of a few furniture pieces–most notably a large four-poster bed that is the focal point for many moments involving the Macbeths. The other major focus point is the skate park ramps on the other side of the performance area, although a few other areas in the room are also put to excellent use. The sound is something of a challenge–there’s an ominous soundtrack by Adam Frick-Verdine that adds a lot to the mood of the production, but the space itself is cavernous and often makes hearing dialogue difficult. Still, the visual aspects of the production are nothing short of stunning–from Eileen Engel’s memorable costumes to Jon Ontiveros’ truly striking lighting, illuminating the space in distinctive and colorful ways that make the most of the space and amplify the emotion of the production.

The interactive nature of this show can seem daunting at first if you’re unfamiliar with this type of theatre. I for one was more than a little nervous approaching this show, being the introvert that I am. Still, even though it took some time to adjust to the format, after a while I was able to get more into the spirit of the production. This production isn’t quite as “in-your-face” as I was fearing, but it’s certainly personal and as interactive as you want it to be, and it’s helpful to check out the company’s website for details of what to expect. You also get an email with instructions upon reserving your ticket. You can talk to the actors if you want, or you can keep your distance and be more of a people-watcher. It’s a daring undertaking, and I would think it would be especially conducive to repeat viewings. This is Macbeth like you’ve never seen it before, and it’s thrilling.

Cast of Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Rebel and Misfits Productions

Rebel and Misfits Productions is presenting Macbeth: Come Like Shadows until November 10, 2018

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Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Suki Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare
October 8, 2016

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespear

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

One of the many, many things I love about Shakespeare’s plays is that they are in the public domain, meaning directors and theatre companies can stage them whenever, wherever, and however they want. Sometimes this can lead to self-indulgence, but often it can lead to some truly innovative, riveting theatrical experiences. Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare is a prime example of how a director’s well thought-out vision can take an established classic and turn it into something intense, immediate, and ¬†stunningly memorable.

The story is the familiar one, with some cuts to streamline it a little and add to the fast-paced feel of this production. It’s not rushed, however, and every decision makes clear sense. The tragic story of the ambitious Scottish thane Macbeth (Ben Ritchie) and his equally ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Michelle Hand) is lucidly told here, and one of the most remarkable parts of it is in the representation of the three witches, or “Weird Sisters” (brilliantly played by Elizabeth Knocke, Taleesha Caturah, and Katie Robinson). In this production, the witches are everywhere, reappearing throughout the production as observers and participants in the action. Having them show up in various situations in other roles, but still in their witch makeup, amplifies the haunting sense of their presence and influence on the action. As the Macbeths conspire to murder the noble King Duncan (Kim Curlee) in order to help fulfill the witches’ prophecy, everything has a sense of palpable urgency. There are other figures who stand in opposition to Macbeth as well, such as the earnest, doomed Banquo (Maxwell Knocke), the determined warrior Macduff (Maggie Wininger), and Duncan’s displaced son and heir Malcolm (Eric Lindsey). The story of the insidious corruption of a thirst for power is told with glaring, visceral intensity, and the consequences of war are made real as well. It’s Shakespeare’s story, set in a mostly traditional setting, but told in a way that speaks to today’s audiences with clarity.

The cast here is impressive. Ritchie convincingly plays the title role, portraying the character’s journey from surprise to ambition to all-consuming lust for power with alacrity. Hand, as the scheming Lady Macbeth, is also superb in her role, expertly displaying the character’s manipulation and also the profundity and horror of her haunting, self-destructing remorse. There are also memorable performances from Knocke as the first devoted and then suspicious but always noble Banquo, and Wininger–who has previously played Hamlet for this theatre company–playing the usually male role of Macduff as a woman, with clear determination and a strong range of emotions, and clear skill as a warrior in the well-choreographed (by Erik Kuhn) duel scene with Macbeth toward the end of the play. There are also excellent performances from Wendy Farmer in a dual role as the witches’ queen Hecate and as the ill-fated Lady Macduff; Chuck Brinkley as the drunken Porter and as a Doctor who attends to Lady Macbeth; Lindsey as Duncan’s rightful heir Malcolm; the and an excellent ensemble of supporting performers in various roles.

The look, sound, and overall atmosphere of this production is stunningly realized by the top-notch creative team. Chuck Winning’s wood-and-metal set is a fitting backdrop for the action here, and JC Krajicek’s costumes are inventive, mostly in a traditional style but with more modern touches here and there. There is truly spectacular use of lighting designed by Nathan Schroeder, and sound designed by Ted Drury to create the eerie, haunting atmosphere and achieve some truly chilling storm effects throughout. All the technical aspects of this production are impressive, in fact, serving director Peters’ vision of a spooky, raw, fast-moving telling of this oft-told story.

There isn’t a lot of time left to see Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare, but I highly recommend making a trip to the Ivory Theatre to see this one-of-a-kind production. This production makes the most of the space it’s in, and director Suki Peters’ clear, bold concept comes across extremely well. I’ve seen a lot of excellent productions from St. Louis Shakespeare, but I think this is their best one yet.

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakepeare

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakepeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Macbeth at the Ivory Theatre until October 16, 2016.

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