Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” directed by pug Bujeaud, paints a scene of timeless dreariness and perennial warfare as the setting for the psychological drama of a heroic warrior’s descent into tyranny and madness. The play opens with the wail of an air raid siren followed by a gas attack. Characters clad in woolen garments and wearing gas masks come out to scream and weep over fallen victims. Then the mottled gray back drop becomes gauzily translucent and we behold a vision of Lady Macbeth, holding a dead infant and shrieking like a banshee.
The struggle for power and position was perpetual when the British Isles were a patchwork of principalities and petty kingdoms. The Pictish tribes, the clans of the Scots, the native Celtic people of Wales and Cornwall, invasive Norsemen and transplanted Germanic tribes of Angels, Saxons and Jutes all vied for power in a political landscape of shifting alliances and rivalries that broiled ceaselessly.
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
In the TLT production of the Shakespeare classic, the characters are dressed in brown, tan and gray kilts and wooly, military style shirts. They carry swords, dirks and daggers. Dylan Twiner, who stars as Macbeth, and Rodman Bolek, who plays Macduff, both sport impressive beards. The rustic backdrops and the earthy costumes give the production a striking visual quality. Niclas Olson’s lighting design contributes to the sublime visual aspect of this production. At times the stage is bathed in blood-red illumination. At times the backdrop becomes translucent and the audience beholds magical visions of departed heroes, kings, conjurers and denizens of paranormal realms.
The hallmark of the production is the quality of its cast. From top to bottom, the actors exhibit a fluency and familiarity with Shakespearean English, which is often cumbersome and opaque. Here, the poetic language flows with expressive clarity. For my money, the performances of Kathryn Philbrook, as the complex Lady Macbeth, and Jessica Weaver, as the intrepid and ill-fated Banquo, really stand out. Philbrook runs barefooted across the stage as she calls down the darkness under which she resolves to do dire deeds in order that she and Macbeth can win the throne that fate has promised.
As Banquo, Weaver is tall and fierce – a noble and valiant friend of Macbeth who is his equal in fighting skill. Banquo is nevertheless bumped off when Macbeth attempts to trick fate and cut off Banquo’s bloodline.
Jonathan Hart also grabs attention as the clownishly drunken porter who is forced to get up and open the castle doors in the wee hours of the morning, on the night after the murder of good King Duncan.
Starring as Macbeth, Twiner takes the audience on a wild ride from the victorious warrior of the battlefield to the mad, blood-drenched king of a shrinking kingdom. Bolek’s Macduff goes through a parallel transformation from the loyal thane to the vengeful husband and father of a murdered family. He has one of the memorable lines: “I have no words, my voice is in my sword.”
This production brings in some of the best talent in the South Sound. Jacob Tice, a perennial favorite at TLT and Lakewood Playhouse plays Malcolm, the displaced son of King Duncan. Ben Stahl, another great, plays Lennox. The cast in this play is so large that room does not allow for an assessment of every performer.
In a high-quality production like this one at TLT, one is able to let the story unfold. You can sit and watch the folly of ambition that seems to have forgotten the Biblical caution: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
The love between Macbeth and his Lady, nicely portrayed in tender moments between the characters, serves to bind the two characters together so that they drag one another down into the abyss of murder, guilt and insanity as they collaborate in an ever-increasing number of crimes in order to obtain and hold power.
Lady Macbeth seems to lack an understanding of the consequences when she steels herself up to commit fell deeds and covers herself in blood along with her husband. “A little water clears us of this deed,” she says, thinking that a simple washing away of the king’s blood will clear the couple of regicide. She soon discovers, however, that she is unable to wash away her guilt. “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” says Lady Macbeth as she falls into a fatal madness.
As an audience member, you find yourself wanting to shout at Macbeth. He has been the hero that turned the tide of battle and saved the king. He is then confronted by the ‘weird sisters” (Ethan Bejeaud, Kaylie Hussey and Jackie V.C.) who prophecy that he will become king. He reasons that if that is fate, that he need do nothing but let it come. Instead, he tries to force the hand of fate and murders the king. Prior to the murder, however, Macbeth has a moment of doubt. He is ready to abandon the plan, but Lady Macbeth urges him on and he proceeds with the plan. Once the daggers are plunged into the body of the slumbering King Duncan, there is no turning back for the couple. Now the audience can only watch the downward spiral.
TLT does a particularly magical job with the banquet scene in which Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of his murdered friend Banquo. Clever sleight of hand is used to make the spirit appear and disappear.
This production brings out the depth and complexity of the characters and the story line of this Shakespearean masterpiece. It is always a delight to see how a given group will interpret the well-known characters and handle certain scenes. Hats off to TLT for a richly textured production of “the Scottish play.”
“Macbeth” runs through June 17. For show times, tickets and information, call (253) 272-2281 or visit www.tacomalittletheatre.com.