Little Lake Theatre opened their modern version of Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth Thursday evening. The production, directed by Little Lake’s Artistic Director Jena Oberg, uses the campus and theater to bring Shakespeare’s masterpiece of ambition, deceit, and madness to life.
Shakespeare wrote Macbeth sometime around 1606–07. It is the shortest of his tragedies. The play chronicles Macbeth’s blind ambition, the quest for power and subsequent end. Director Oberg has chosen to give her production a more contemporary flair in terms of dialect, sounds, and costumes. (No Scottish brogue in this production.)
Macbeth and Banquo, who are generals serving King Duncan of Scotland, meet the Wayward Sisters, three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will become king and that Banquo will father a line of kings.
When King Duncan chooses this moment to honor Macbeth by visiting his castle, Macbeth and his equally ambitious wife carry out their plan to murder King Duncan and take the Scottish throne. Worried by the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s heirs instead of Macbeth’s sons will be kings, Macbeth arranges the death of Banquo and his son.
Macbeth orchestrates more and more murders to protect himself from suspicion. The once honored general has become a tyrannical ruler. His guilt and paranoia that results from never-ending bloodbath and ensuing civil war drive Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to madness and their ultimate demise.
Oberg has chosen to flip genders of several of the characters. (The cast would have been made up of all men in the Shakespeare’s days.) Kathleen Regan is cast as King, now Queen Duncan. Oberg’s most brilliant casting decision is the choice of Rachel Pfennigwerth to play Banquo and Rachel’s real-life brother Jared Pfennigwerth as Macbeth. The natural chemistry between them is a perfect match for the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo and coupled with their extensive acting experience, adds a most intriguing and modern dimension to this four-hundred-year-old drama.
Unlike the main character is many of Shakespeare’s dramas, Macbeth is powerful ambitious, sexy and happily married which makes his downfall even more tragic. Lady Macbeth (well played by Samantha Rund) is one of the theatre’s most hated characters. Jared and Samantha’s powerful portrayal of the Macbeth’s passionate relationship transcends their lust for each other into their mutual desire for power for their family
Eric Matthews portrays Macduff as the steady, unassuming, strictly business kind of guy. Matthews’ McDuff is the perfect foil to Macbeth and brings the madness to an end.
Jessica’s Kavanagh and Emmaleigh Plevel’s costumes follow the theme of contemporary yet historical in nature. The use of a mix of full kilts and a different half kilt that is more like a sash over jeans covering one leg. In keeping with the Scottish tradition, the kilts colors and patterns are associated with a specific family. One very nice design element is the red kilt pattern that runs up the sides of Macbeth’s dress jacket, not a flat panel but one that narrows from the waist up, a very fresh look. The Witches (Alana Landis, Carina Iannarelli, Patricia Cena Fuchel) have an airy ghost-like flowing costume that matches their ethereal nature perfectly. Malcolm (Brendan Karras) wears “supper checks,” outlined squares with white borders that coupled with Karras’ stage presence signify a change in leadership. Kudos to the designers for creating these unique looks.
Sound Design goes uncredited, as it so often does at Little Lake. It this production of Macbeth the “sounds are an integral element of the contemporary style. There are many, all are well executed and integral to this staging.
I must mention the fight scenes, brilliantly staged by Fight Choreographer Michael Petyak aided by Fight Captain Rachel Pfennigwerth. Fight scenes on small stages are awkward at best and even harder to look real when the audience is close enough to feel a sword swoosh by. These scenes are entirely believable, almost to the point where you worry about the actors. Bravo to all involved.
Both Shakespeare and a production of Macbeth are challenges for any theatre company to present and many audience members to enjoy. Little Lake’s contemporary production of Macbeth has met those challenges well. An experienced group of versatile actors in the lead roles, great chemistry between Macbeth, Banquo and Lady Macbeth along with really cool costumes and brilliantly stage fight scenes make for an enjoyable and entertaining performance.
But alas, all is not well in this land of Macbeth. We arrived at 7 p for the pre-show talk as suggested, ordered our intermission dessert and secured our preshow beverage. Before the conversation we were broken into two groups, we are in the second of the two. Director Oberg’s talk was not so much about the story but more about her artistic approach to this production. This was clearly of interest to Shakespeare aficionados and informative not to mention helpful for this reviewer.
At the conclusion or Oberg’s talk, Group One was called to the lobby. While they were milling around and talking, those of us in the second group remained in our seats and saw the opening three scenes staged inside. When those scenes were over, those in the lobby were directed outside and to the first three scenes. We waited in the theatre before we were escorted outside to see the opening three scenes, again. That left us in the second group with a collective “Huh?” (Mind you, Group 1 did not see these scenes twice.)
The outside staging was a nice touch and more interesting than when we saw it when performed inside. The need for two groups was necessitated by the size of the outside performance spaces. Showing the three opening scenes twice was perhaps in error? Little Lake’s sound separation between the lobby and theatre itself is non-existent, which made paying attention difficult when Group Two was watching a performance, and Group One was mingling and talking in the lobby. I assume this gets sorted out in subsequent performances.
I would strongly recommend you read the online pre-show guide as many of Little Lakes tradition and conventions are different for Macbeth performances including the 7:30 start time instead of the usual 8 pm. As always, it never hurts to “brush up on your Shakespeare” before the performance. For more information, visit www.littlelake.org/macbethguide
Macbeth, at the Little Lake Theatre, has performances now through October 6th. Showtime is at 7:30. This production is recommended age: 10+
For tickets and more information click here
Photos courtesy of Little Lake Theatre.
George Hoover got his start in theatre in Miami when his family ran the Coconut Grove Playhouse. His career encompasses a variety of work in both the design and technical side of motion pictures, live theatre, and television. George is a three-time Emmy Award winner, member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership Award winner, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Life Fellow, and most importantly a passionate theatre person and generally handy guy.
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