The Queens Players’ production of Macbeth (synopsis here: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/macbeth/summary.html) sets out to draw attention to the influence of the dark and supernatural forces that open the play in the form of the three Witches. The production is set in a “Druidic world of myth, magic and warriors,” and the audience is taken into that world from the moment it enters the room. An ominous Celtic knot dominates the stage floor as fog and warlike music wash over the audience, and the production opens with the crash of battle and eerie keening of the three witches, chanting and singing words we would normally see spoken.
The creation of a primitive and tumultuous Celtic world is completed through the evocative work of costume designer Kima Baffour and makeup designer Emily Lambert, who give us rough, shirtless warriors in leather, painted for battle, and wildly sensual and mystic witches. So much of the effort of the production succeeds in creating an atmosphere of danger and political instability. Weapons are always close at hand and often handled; both Banquo and Macduff share moments of mock combat with their sons, passing on necessary defense skills from father to son. Director Alberto Bonilla also choreographed the fighting, and gave it the rough, guttural edge of a primitive age. Even the staging—shallow three quarter thrust with entrances from all sides, gives the sense that danger can come from any side. I was forcibly reminded of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, and it put me in a place to understand the story differently than I had before. In this environment, Macbeth might not be about one man’s lust for power, but of a fractured and dangerous environment where all look for opportunities to augment or solidify their power.
As strongly as the production elements suggest this primitive and mystical world, the acting style consistently undermines that feeling. While all other elements suggest a raw and grounded style, most of the dialogue seems to take place in a very refined and dignified place, with an anachronistic style that seems very much an effort to speak SHAKESPEARE in an elevated way. This is not to say there are not wonderful performances. Many subtle jokes and meanings are teased out of the language and made readily available to the audience. Energy is high among the cast members, and the show maintains a driving pace. But there is a strong disconnect between the visceral world created for the play, and the very intellectual performances of the actors in it. Marc LeVasseur’s Macbeth is beautifully conflicted but seems to be driven by intellectual fear rather than blood and ghosts and desperation. Rachel Cornish’s Lady Macbeth is cunning and dangerous, but it seems to come from nowhere, rather than being the result of the dangerous world in which she lives.
Overall, I thought The Queens Players managed to create a rich environment for the play, but struggled to leave behind the sense of “doing Shakespeare” in order to live in the wonderful world they’d created.