BWW Review: MACBETH Solicits the Supernatural at Sacramento Theatre Company
Director Casey McClellan, fresh off of a Broadway World Best Director win for The Diary of Anne Frank, brings the Scottish play to Sacramento Theatre Company with a creative spin on the dark and supernatural elements of the show. For those who are not familiar with MacBeth, it is arguably one of Shakespeare's darkest works and cleverly explores the depravity of the human mind and the lengths that one will go to for personal gain.
The play opens to the three witches, whose prophecies the story centers upon. Brilliantly costumed and with eerie, rhythmic chanting and drums, the witches foreshadow the paradoxes that comprise the play and that will eventually consume MacBeth . "Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air." Played by Ruby Sketchley, Monique Lonergan (Broadway World Best Child Actor winner), and the incredibly versatile, funny Janet Motenko, the weird sisters tell MacBeth and Banquo that MacBeth will become the King of Scotland and that Banquo's children will succeed him as King. Thus the seeds of unrest and avarice are planted and MacBeth cannot outrun them. His thoughts immediately turn to murder and he sends word to his wife, Lady MacBeth, of the witches' visions.
When MacBeth returns home, he finds that Lady MacBeth has also decided that King Duncan must be killed. MacBeth (a believably noble and unstable William Elsman) has a twang of conscience and cold feet and this is where we see who wears the pants in the family, as Lady MacBeth (the tall, regal and powerful Atim Udoffia) is having none of it. She proceeds to call MacBeth's masculinity into question, "When you durst do it, then you were a man," thus successfully manipulating him into ensuring that she receive her rightful title of Queen.
Once MacBeth takes over the throne and becomes drunk with power, his killing off of any opposition careens out of control. After he arranges Banquo's murder and Banquo's son, Fleance, escapes, he seeks out the witches for guidance once again. They call upon three apparitions that warn him of MacDuff; however, he does not take them seriously, as they foretell that he cannot be harmed by a man who has been born of a woman. As a precautionary measure, he calls for the murder of MacDuff's wife and children, while his own wife is descending into her self-made pit of madness ("Out, damned spot! Out, I say...Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.") and, presumably, commits suicide.
MacBeth's world is unraveling around him, but he holds fast to the belief that he can conquer the army of 10,000 strong that is coming towards him. He believes he is invincible because he cannot be killed by a man who has been born of a woman. As the bloody battle for control of Scotland continues, MacDuff eventually finds and fatally wounds MacBeth, revealing to him that he was ripped prematurely from his mother's womb, therefore not being of a woman born.
A couple of things stood out to me in an otherwise flawless performance. An accurate representation of the family crest of MacBeth would have been a stunning detail to include on the tapestry that hung in MacBeth's castle. The bloody child apparition was, I felt, underserved by being represented by a doll. I think that the impact would have been much greater had it been a real child. Lastly, when the servant and doctor are witnessing Lady MacBeth's sleepwalking nightmare, the doctor pulled out what looked to me like a notepad and pencil to record her ramblings. I think that something more period-appropriate would have been believable. Again, small prop choices, but I feel that they would have had a big impact.
In all, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see one of Casey McClellan's shows again. Each show I see becomes more complex and adds more layers of creativity and insight. He delves into the subject matter of the material and makes it his own in such a way that forces us to look into things in a different light. For example, he drew inspiration for the witches from Pagan rituals and they were, without question, the most powerful and awe-inspiring characters in this show. Their ancient energy and knowledge succeeded in thrilling and captivating us all.
For some fun information before the show, Google "the curse of MacBeth" and read all about the different incidents that have plagued the casts of MacBeth since its premiere on August 7, 1606. Don't forget to leave the words "MacBeth" at the door of the theatre and only utter "the Scottish play" once inside!
MacBeth plays at Sacramento Theatre Company from February 21st-March 18th. Tickets may be obtained at the box office at 1419 H St., Sacramento, by calling (916) 443-6722, or online at tickets.sactheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Charr Crail Photography