BWW Review: MACBETH at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Can you guess what is running now through May 4 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company? It's one of the most enduring curses in the theatre realm, but it also happens to be one of Shakespeare's most famous plays: "Macbeth."
DISCLAIMER: If you are squeamish, this may not be the play for you, but if you can put up with gore, it's a "bloody brilliant" production.
"Macbeth" takes place in 1640s Scotland. When the play opens, Scotland is at war against Norway and Ireland, with King Duncan at the helm. After fighting, Scotland's generals, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches who prophesy about their future. They tell Macbeth that he will soon become the Thane of Cawdor, then one day will become the King of Scotland. Banquo will not become king himself, but he will produce a long line of kings. Macbeth and Banquo are suspicious of these prophecies until they get back to their camp, where King Duncan tells Macbeth he is now Thane of Cawdor, as the previous thane betrayed them in battle. Macbeth tells his wife of the prophecy, and together the two stop at nothing to get to the throne.
Cincy Shakes' company member, Miranda McGee's direction of the classic is genuinely thrilling. The violence and bloodiness are brought more to the forefront, which may be a bit much for some to handle, but it keeps the audience interested, engaged and at the edge of their seat. Rather than dominating over the story, I found it to enhance the plot and make it feel more real. The more blood, the harder it is to wash off your hands, right?
Giles Davies stars as the titular role. The audience watches as Davies goes from a somewhat eager and sensitive general to an emotionless and vile king within a matter of two hours. After Duncan is murdered, Macbeth goes into a guilt-ridden shock. The way Davies carried his body from that scene on was enough for me to wish I could grant him every award. This is the moment in the show where Macbeth's character indeed turns on a dime. He becomes somewhat ghostly in the moment after murdering Duncan but quickly rebounds to cover up for his misdeed, not to mention the panic attack that he seems to have in the second act as he sees Banquo's ghost. Davies handled every twist and turn in his character's emotional arc with such care and grace.
Kelly Mengelkoch plays opposite Davies as Lady Macbeth. This character is arguably one of Shakespeare's most complex and well-written females to date, in my opinion, and Mengelkoch's performance fills her shoes, and then some. In my head, Lady Macbeth is truly just Macbeth's puppet master. She is the one who convinces him to kill Duncan, and she is the one who goes after the prophecy to its fullest extent while maintaining a relatively calm manner. Guilt does, however, catch up with her in the end. In Act 5, Scene 1, Lady Macbeth has lost her mind and is seen talking to herself while feverishly trying to wash the blood off her hands. This was the highlight of the entire play for me. Mengelkoch's dead-pan made the lines all the more haunting. While Lady Macbeth is trying to rub the blood off her hands, she is going back and forth between a panicked state of the stench and amount of blood, while also telling Macbeth to stop being scared, as that will only make them seem more suspect. I felt a chill down my spine this entire scene. Mengelkoch's raw honesty in a role that couldn't look more inhuman was absolutely terrifying and stunning at the same time.
For anyone who ever claims Shakespeare is hard to understand or will put you to sleep, you need to see Cincy Shakespeare's version of "Macbeth." I promise you will leave more awake than when you walked in the doors, and you may even question your own morality.
***The performance viewed was a preview before opening on Friday, April 5.***