I am not a fan of all of the Bard’s works. There are many that simply do not translate for me and I have a difficult time emotionally investing myself in the story. Macbeth is not one of these. It is my favorite play of his. While I have seen a number of film versions, films inspired by the tale, such as Throne of Blood, and a few taped stage productions, until last night I never experienced the play live and in person.
Every summer The Old Globe theater in San Diego hosts a Shakespeare Festival. Three years ago I attended a production of The Tempest and it thrilled me, last night production of Macbeth took things to a higher level.
Director Brian Kulick staged the setting as sort of a WWI analog, but not as directly one-for-one as the recent PBS Great Performances production with Patrick Stewart as Macbeth. Kulick’s staging is more atmospheric than literal. I am not going to go through the production scene by scene, but I want to touch on a few that I think illustrate the tremendous power in Kulick’s vision and the artistry of the actors.
The opening setting is hospital ward with six patients in varying degrees of bandages. The witches’ opening lines are passed from patient to patient, muttered or shouted from the lips of those traumatized by wars horrors. Three of the six are the witches played superbly by Makha Mthembu, Amy Blackman, and Suzelle Palacios. When they reach Macbeth’s name all six rise and shout the name in unison. A literal chill shot down my spine and theater potential for horror was realized. Many horror films have failed to achieve the effect I felt last night from Act one scene one. Time and again the production return to horrific themes and there failed to be a single appearance of the witches that did not produce dread and unease.
Macbeth and Banquo are played admirably by Jonathan Cake and Timothy Stickney. I was particularly impressed with the performance Sticknety gave as a living Banquo and as his ghost. Without line too often the ghost sits there and any horror must come from empathy with Macbeth. Stickney, moving with a slow and menacing pace while smiling an expression that filled me with dread, truly captured the horror of a walking spirit.
There are portions of the text that I have always found problematic. The Porter is rarely funny, and the murder of MacDuff’s son can in lesser hands be accidently funny. Neither was true last night. Both the staging and performance in these scenes, subtly changed from the concept of the text, enhanced each scene in it humor and its horror.
The entire cast was wonderful and not a single note of their performance struck me as sour. I am so happy I did not see a matinee showing. I doubt the horrific aspect work quite as well under the bright California sunshine as they do during a dark and chilled night.
If you are in the area, go see it. It is well worth an evening of your time.