BWW Review: An Unsettling MACBETH at Great River Shakespeare Festival
It's not surprising to feel somewhat uneasy sitting in a theater waiting for MACBETH to begin. At the Great River Shakespeare Festival's production you're confronted with a stage set that feels fractured, unforgiving, ominous. There is an unsubtle touch of bloody heads on pikes, with two empty pikes prompting gruesome speculation before the play even begins. For this professional Equity company's 16th season, R. Eric Stone's terrific design immediately forces our entry into the dark world where we will all experience the horrors to come.
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes, this MACBETH casts two beautiful actors in the leads as the Scottish lord compelled towards taking the throne, and his self-willed, ambitious lady. Andrew Carlson has played GRSF roles from Hamlet to Orlando and the Macbeth he gives us is no brawny warrior. He reasons his way onto the dark path of 'murther' which is far more terrifying than some headlong brawler. The farther he travels downward, reason slips slowly beyond his grasp and he becomes the monster. As Lady Macbeth - her husband's "partner in greatness" - Leah Gabriel is gorgeous, cerebral, and calculating. Her call for the 'spirits' to 'unsex me here' is an unemotional, cold incantation. She is more than ready to make her husband's unholy destiny become reality. Their early emotional and sexual chemistry is tangible, but we see their downward spirals happen separately, terribly alone.
No production of MACBETH is complete without a trio of Wyrd Sisters who immediately capture our imaginations. Anique Clements, Victoria Nassif, and Silas Sellnow are dressed as displaced people with eerie make-up and a sense of satisfying a single-minded purpose. Interestingly, they are present onstage throughout much of the play, taking the parts of various characters.
As in any production of MACBETH, the most disturbing scene is the murder of the Macduff family. Leah Gabriel plays the Messenger who tries to warn Lady Macduff but too late. Here the Wyrd Sisters are impassive assassins, and Paul Barnes gives us an aggressively violent portrayal of these unspeakable acts. As witnesses, we are all on this dark path together. When Macduff finally kills Macbeth we feel relief rather than satisfaction.
Other stand-outs in the cast are Christopher Gerson as MacDuff, a brave hold-out against Macbeth who pays a terrible price for not seeing the danger to his family, Benjamin Boucvalt as the honorable Banquo who holds fast to his moral center, and Alex Givens as the cautious and upright Malcolm who is the rightful heir to the Scottish throne. Silas Sellnow also gives us a very amusing turn as the drunk and witty Porter at Macbeth's castle gates.
The rest of the creative team includes lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, costume designer Kyle Schellinger, sound designer and composer Scott O'Brien, intimacy director Tom Ringberg, stage manager Rebekah Heusel, assistant director Ethan Graham Roeder, and production manager Joseph Millett. MACBETH runs in rep at the Great River Shakespeare Festival through August 3, 2019. For tickets go to http://grsf.org/box-office/ or call 507.474.7900.