BWW Review: MACBETH at Seattle Repertory Theatre is hauntingly brilliant
MACBETH at Seattle Repertory Theatre is hauntingly brilliant. Take the classic tale of ambition and lust for power, mix it with an ensemble of seven young women with dark imaginations, and add toxic manipulations and you have a new, gritty adaptation that will leave you speechless. Young adolescent girls are usually portrayed as innocent and hopeful, but here they are desperate, raw, misunderstood, and so easily slip across the line from fantasy to murder. The story of Macbeth has perhaps become too familiar to us. The tales linking masculinity with violence have become to ubiquitous, and we have become numb. This new retelling of Macbeth, adapted by the stupendous (there really is no other word) Erica Schmidt brings us back to the truth of the horrific nature of Macbeth's actions.
Macbeth is a cautionary tale. Due to a prophecy from three witches, Macbeth believes he is destined to be king, so much so that he is willing to remove the obstacle in his path, the current king. Egged on and aided by Lady Macbeth who questions his manhood if he is unwilling to act, the deed is done. The prophecy also foretold of future kings from descendants of Banquo. Fueled by insecurity, Macbeth also has Banquo murdered. Now guilt and madness cause Macbeth to be haunted by visions of Banquo. His response is not remorse but rather a reign of terror. Macbeth loses control of his own mind and ultimately loses everything. For this show, the story is like a game, and girls all willingly play, waiting to see who will be the first to say stop. When no one will call the bluff, the game becomes real. In the end, they can only muse, "we really did go on three."
The unlikeliest of casts is also unanimously remarkable. The commitment, sure-footedness, and dedication to the story are evident in each member of the cast. The three witches played by Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Laakan McHardy, and Analiese Mereson Guettinger are harbingers of good things to come in the theater world. They displayed precise comedic timing, fierce energy, and decadent mischievousness. Tamsen Glaser as Banquo was freakishly awesome, especially in ghost form. Klarissa Maria Robles as Macduff was understated and subtle, but brilliant in her own way as the only character left with any moral authority. Izabel Mar as Lady Macbeth was perhaps my favorite, if a favorite is possible from this cast. The 400-year old lines dripped from her lips as if they truly were her very own thoughts. Charlotte Schweiger was the lucky but deserving recipient of the part of Macbeth. While it is her ambition that drives the whole story, she is often unwilling to accept responsibility for the results of her unchecked ambition. It's no coincidence that the ringtone on one of the girl's cell phone plays, "Look What You Made Me Do." Schweiger balances the two halves of this complex character with ease despite having to layer it on top of the angst and hormones of the teenager girl setting. It is Schweiger who ultimately makes us believe that the tale of Macbeth is still present among us, in the often unexplored depths of depravity. Here she leads the rest, rather of her own volition or pressured from the pack, it matters not. Her final scene is heart-wrenching, awful, and deserved, and she makes us feel every bit of it.
The staging and stunts throughout the show elicit a sinister uneasiness. The cast gets dirty and wet and gritty. The set is used in so many innovative ways that I found myself trying to guess how some objects might be used. I will refrain from providing any details as this fresh adaptation deserves to be seen with fresh eyes. Hats off to the entire production staff for embracing the story in all its gore. The show comes with a well-earned graphic violence warning and is suggested for age sixteen and up. I would allow my fourteen year-old daughter to see it if only for the knowledge of the show's power to make Shakespeare relevant and spur my young thespian past her fear of iambic pentameter.
Indeed, classics are classics for good reasons. That does not mean that they are sacred and unchangeable. Schmidt and Seattle Repertory Theatre have reminded us why we love Shakespeare and why we must keep searching for the truths of today within the texts. We are reminded how good men, or in this case good girls, are capable of appalling things. When passion is high and goes unchecked, when a trusted friend or love whispers not caution but rather incites, even heroes can fall. I would go back to see this show again "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow."
Macbeth is playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through June 17th. For tickets for information: www.seattlerep.org.