Words by Ashlynn Thompson
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Fabio Polanco
Theater: Wright-Curtis Theatre
Theater Company: The School of Theatre and Dance
Performance Dates: April 21 — April 30, 2017
Run Time: 3 hours
For those unfamiliar with the tragedy that is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” it is a play of the corruption and consequences that come with ambition. Macbeth, a Scottish general and Thane of Glamis, is pushed by his wife Lady Macbeth to murder King Duncan and take the crown for himself. Chaos ensues as Macbeth kills his friends and foes out of paranoia from the prophecies of three witches to retain his crown. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth descend into madness and are plagued by hallucinations from the blood that cannot be washed from their hands. In the end, Lady Macbeth kills herself and hubris is Macbeth’s downfall, as is the case in many classic tragedies. A distinguished play filled with many motifs, symbols, and themes, “Macbeth” illustrates the corrupting power and inevitable demise of a man with violent ambition.
The directorial concept focuses on the violence of this play. Blood is everywhere in “Macbeth,” but interestingly, most of the deaths happen offstage. However, with this retelling, every death happens in full view of the audience, and with great screams of anguish, several characters meet their bloody end. Additionally, the black box theater space makes the action of the play much more engaging as the portion of the stage closest to the audience is surrounded on three sides by the viewers (called a thrust stage). The makeup is especially memorable because the blood and dirt used on the actors looks incredibly authentic and further adds to realism of the play.
Why this is worth seeing … or not
For those who are hesitant or averse to watching a Shakespearean play, either for lack of understanding of the writing or the seemingly boring plots, this play will hold your attention not only because of the nuanced writing but because of the original directorial concept. Admittedly, it is difficult to understand all the dialogue, but it is easy to comprehend the point of each scene and major events. In all, this play is long but definitely worth seeing.
Elements of Production
As previously mentioned, violence, especially blood, is the essence of the directorial concept and the elements of production emphasize this. The set design includes flesh, dead animals and eventually Macbeth’s head (a surprisingly accurate model of the actor’s face) that hang from the ceiling on hooks.
There are also three different levels, from the main theater floor and up, that the actors move up and down. These give clues to the viewers as to the power of certain characters, a more powerful character standing at the top level and a weaker one on the main stage floor, such as Lady Macbeth and the ghost of Banquo standing above Macbeth at specific points in the play. However, the most dramatic part of the set design that makes its appearance immediately after intermission, is a long white sheet that hung from the ceiling that slowly runs red with streaks of blood. The lighting, especially in the second portion, is tinted red at certain points, especially after the death of a character, to emphasize the steady stream of bloodshed that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth create.
However, it is unclear to me why clear plastic is used so heavily in the costume design by Brittney Harrell. For example, clear plastic aprons or skirts are worn by some of the female characters and the males don clear plastic armor. Lady Macbeth’s wardrobe choices are the most confusing and are not consistent with the other costumes in the production, save the clear plastic. Her first outfit is a floor-length dress with alternating panels, similarly going from the bodice to the floor, of black and orange with a clear plastic corset and underneath she wears silver fitted pants. Then she changes into a floor-length black dress with long, red plastic sleeves, tie and hem. I understand the symbolism of the color red after Lady Macbeth was complicit in the murder of King Duncan, but again, the plastic does not have a clear relevance. Despite this, the other elements of production very distinctly stress the violence and blood in the play.
And finally, the acting. Notables worth mentioning are Dalton Brown who plays the Porter (who is the epitome of what Shakespeare had intended as “comic relief”), Jess Tanner who plays Lady Macduff, Jacob Glosser who plays Macduff and Heidi Holmwood, Grace Hunt and Tekla Gaughan who play the three witches.
Holmwood, Hunt and Gaughan are very believable in their portrayals as they contort their bodies and seize to emphasize their supernatural abilities. However, Jennifer Hemphill, who portrays Lady Macbeth, plays the madness and hallucinations part well, but is disappointing when it comes to pulling the strings on the puppet that is Macbeth. She does not fully convince me that she is in control of her husband and the mastermind behind King Duncan’s murder. Furthermore, at several points in the play, she draws out her words in a very melodramatic fashion. She is not a poor actress by any means, and all of this could be her choices as a professional actor, but she could do more with the complex character that is Lady Macbeth.
Finally, Jim Bray who plays Macbeth. Much is expected from the title character, but much more is received. Clearly a professional and experienced actor, Bray dazzles his audience with his submissiveness to his wife, his descent into madness in seeing the ghost of Banquo and his final stand as a prideful and paranoid king. A standout scene is when his character first sees the ghost of Banquo in a feast with his wife and some of his subjects. Bray displaces every prop on the table when he leaps onto it in a fit of hallucinogenic paranoia trying to figure out why Banquo’s ghost has come to haunt him. The ghost disappears and reappears and each time Bray quickly goes from calm and celebratory, to chaotic and mad. These rapid beat changes are a test of a truly great actor. The play is worth seeing just for Bray’s performance worthy of a Tony nomination.
“Macbeth” is the play to see at some point in your lifetime, not only to experience the legendary Shakespeare in action, but to understand a message that still resonates in this day and age; violent ambition corrupts absolutely. This retelling of “Macbeth” clearly emphasizes this message in an original, and well-executed fashion complete with sword fights and lots of clear plastic.
Ashlynn Thompson is a freshman majoring in fashion merchandising and minoring in French in Kent State’s Honors College. She has a passion for the performing arts and has acted for years. In 2016, she directed the play “The Matchmaker” and also plotted the lighting, scenic and costume design. In addition to writing performing arts reviews for The Burr, Thompson interns for the fashion blog website CollegeFashionista, participates on the Programming Board for Black United Students and will serve as Secretary for the Fashion Student Organization for the 2017/18 school year. Thompson looks forward to bringing her critical eye to the Kent State performing arts scene.