Although it is intriguing to see a production of Shakespeare set in a contemporary time and place, it is also refreshing to see his work performed in a traditional style like the recent production at the Great Lakes Theater. In the program notes, director Charles Fee elaborates on his choice: “with both Hamlet and Macbeth we have taken a pause from contemporary reference: no cell phones, video screens or contemporary music.”
Fee and scenic designer Russell Metheny recreated “Shakespeare’s Globe” by converting the upstage area of the stage into galleries (for some of the audience to sit) and balconies (for actors to use). The rest of the thrust stage serves as the main performing area. This stage configuration is the same as in their 2017 production of Hamlet. Metheny placed an additional low platform in centerstage to suggest various objects and spaces such as the banquet table and woods. At the beginning, two sets of electric chandeliers are raised, intensifying the feeling of an Elizabethan stage. Lighting designer Rick Martin complements this “bare-stage” by varying the intensity, texture, and focus of the lighting.
The simplicity of this staging enables the actors to focus on the play’s language and the psychology of their characters and their relationships. Lynn Robert Berg’s Macbeth is a man consumed by ambition, fear, and uncertainty. For example, in his soliloquy Berg addresses his plan to assassinate King Duncan (David Anthony Smith) to an invisible dagger, underscoring his unstable state of mind. Erin Partin’s Lady Macbeth is a woman who has been hardened by the loss of her newborn and is determined to improve her prospects by making her husband king. Thus, when she sees her husband disoriented by the ghost of Banquo and her ambitions thwarted, she begins to deteriorate.
Jonathan Dyrud Banquo contrasts with Berg’s old and hard Macbeth, by portraying him as a younger and likable man. He shows affection to his young son Fleance played by Jake Spencer. In Act II, Scene 1, in the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle, Banquo wakes up Fleance and entrusts his sword and dagger to him, enjoying a respite and fatherhood. This scene also fulfills one of the witches prophesies; Fleance will be king.
Laura Welsh Berg, Jodi Dominick, and Meredith Lark play mysterious witches with long hair. Their costumes with extended arms (using sticks in the sleeves of their black feather cloaks) allow them to appear to transform into trees and bats. Their appearance along with choreographed movements suggest the power to fly any place, including the banquet hall.
Though Fee’s fast-paced direction is appropriate to this play, it does cause some subtler implications to be missed. For example, this production does not provide enough time to contrast the well-equipped and energized forces of Malcolm with Macbeth's isolation and desperation without enough soldiers and equipment in the castle of Dunsinane.
While Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes suggest a medieval Scotland, they lack specific markers, for example, tartan colors that might have helped the audience to distinguish the affiliations of the soldiers in the opening battle scene. However, Lady Macbeth’s rich textured costumes in dark brown and purple suggest not only her state of mind but also the coldness of Macbeth’s primitive castle.
The conflicts explored in Shakespeare’s Macbeth do not end at the end of the play; instead the ending evokes the continuing struggles and bloodshed over the crown in Shakespeare's history plays. The abrupt blackout that Fee chose for the end of the show suggests the short reign of the new king Malcolm and the dark times ahead.