At The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland's New Theater, Shakespeare's
"Macbeth" is a stripped down production, adapted by Lue Morgan Douthit
and Director Libby Appel. It has six actors and hardly any props, except a few
swords, daggers, a crown, and a pool of blood. The New Theater is an intimate
theater in the round that replaces The Black Swan. The stage in "Macbeth"
is round, and the pool of blood is right in the center. All the niceties and
asides are removed, and the play is whittled down to just under two hours. Appel
takes us on a psychological journey into the mind of a sane, honorable, and
decent man as he's gripped by the lust for power and glory. We watch the hesitation,
the murderous deed, and the descent into madness, as he becomes a victim of
his own brutal actions while he's dragged down into his own private hell. The
intimacy of the theater, lack of any distractions, except the blood, and the
fact that there's no intermission in which to contemplate and regroup, contribute
to the utter desolation and devastation that is wreaked on the psyche in this
bloodiest of Shakespeare's dramas.
The cast consists of G. Valmont Thomas as Macbeth, BW Gonzalez as Lady Macbeth, Jeffrey King as Banquo, and three women playing the other roles. I normally detest cross dressing roles, but in this it works well enough. Suzanne Irving is a convincing King Duncan. I've seen Terri McMahon as Joan of Arc, so Mac Duff isn't a real big stretch, and tiny Julie Oda is excellently cast as all of the children. I never realized there were so many in this play, but it's really played up here as Macbeth hugs Malcolm, picks Fleance up and lifts him over his head, and the mussing of the hair, and the childlike giggles and smiles. It's the starkest of contrasts with all of the bloodletting, and provides an excellent touch that intensifies the drama and tragedy beyond description.
The play opens with Macbeth prostrate on the stage. The Witches call out from the darkened corners of the theater, then encircle the stage. They become King Duncan and the Messengers telling of the defeat of the rebellion, and the elevation of Macbeth to Thane of Cawdor. It's back to the Witches as they surround Macbeth, raise him up, and tell him of his fate, while Banquo joins them. Lady Macbeth is cold as ice when she kneels in front of the pool of blood and prays to remove all her femininity and replace it with the coldness she needs to achieve her aims. She uses her feminine charms to convince and cajole her husband, not that this Macbeth really needs it, and pushes him over the edge when he does as he hesitates before murdering the King. The pool of blood is used with chilling effect, and once the first murder is done, it's blood, blood, and more blood.
King Macbeth has blood on his white robes, as does his Lady always now. At the banquet it's just the two of them. Banquo's ghost appears, sits in the chair and glares directly at Macbeth, who raves. Both he and Lady Macbeth address the audience in explanation of his behavior, in an excellent touch. The more murderous it all gets, the more blood is splashed around. After about the third or so killing, you have the chilling realization that you can actually hear Macbeth's feet stick to the floor. Whatever substance they use, it becomes sticky as it dries. In the sleepwalking scene Lady Macbeth kneels and smears the blood on her clothes, face, and hair. "All the perfumes of Arabia" will certainly not wash this away. When she dies, Macbeth lets out a hideous scream and it's all too clear that his "life's nothing but a walking shadow...it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
One of the most profound things I've ever read was Nazi leader, Albert Speer, describe how a sane and decent man could be dragged down into such a hideous hell, where he could commit such horrific acts in his lust for power. Libby Appel captures this with chilling reality in this searing production of "Macbeth" in The New Theater at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. It continues through November 3.