There are few groups of people who are more superstitious than theatre folk. In the recent generations, some of the reasons behind the superstitions are lost because the older, knowledgeable thespians have failed to relate the facts to the younger generation.
The superstitions remain, though the reasons may be lost. Like: Never wish an actor “Good Luck” before they go onstage; “Break a leg” (the way John Wilkes Booth did after assassinating Abraham Lincoln) will keep the evil spirits away. Never whistle back stage; the Stage Manager used to relate cues by a series of whistles; a casual whistle could confuse the cast and crew.
One of the big ones is never mention the Scottish play by name. One thought is that Shakespeare actually used real black magic spells in his scene with the witches in “Macbeth.” Another thought is that in the old days, theatres had several plays in repertoire. If a show was not accepted by the audiences, they would pull out an old tried and true one to mount in its stead. “Macbeth” was a sure hit and almost always in all theatre’s repertoire, but if you talk about it backstage, it’s bad luck because you want the present show to fold so “Macbeth” can take its place.
Tacoma Little Theatre has put its trust in Director pug Bujeaud to mount the “Tragedy of Macbeth” to the stage and, as usual, been rewarded with a good quality, artistic rendition of one of the Bard’s most popular efforts.
Bujeaud has imagined the play to take place, not at the beginning of the 17th Century when written, but based it on the premise that World War I has evolved into another Hundred Years’ War which has thrown Scotland back into a feudal period of its history; with war affecting the financial collapse of the country and industry lost, Scotland has reverted to hand-to-hand combat where swords need no bullets to make them kill and crawling over comrades’ and friends’ bodies is the easiest way to the top and is expected and almost acceptable.
Bujeaud adds the gender-bending aspect in her production by casting females in male roles. Most of this works by changing a pronoun here and there. It is a bit of “back to reality” when “he” is changed to “she” when Macbeth speaks of Banquo but someone forgot to edit a second act scene when Lady Macbeth reverts back to the script referring to Banquo as “he.”
However, the story of ambition, greed and murder most foul does not change. Some of those not familiar with the Bard’s English may be in need of a bit of translation to follow the story, but the actors’ emoting carries much of the story with little doubt.
Briefly, this is the tale of Macbeth, a brave and dutiful warrior who, along with his best friend Banquo, is pledged to King Duncan. After the two win a great battle, they meet with three witches on their way home from the front. The witches greet Macbeth as the “Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King hereafter.”
The bewildered Macbeth sends a message to his wife about the prophecy, who has been told that the King will stay at their castle for a few days.
After he returns home, Macbeth reaffirms his allegiance to Duncan and accepts his promotion to Glamis and Cawdor, Macbeth remembers the rest of the prophecy and discusses it with Lady Macbeth, who is even more eager to help the prophecy come true as quickly as possible with a great deal of help from a well-placed dagger wielded by Macbeth as Duncan sleeps. Sickened by his evil deed, Macbeth neglects to smear blood on the grooms whom he intends to accuse of the murder and leaves the carnage carrying the murder weapon with him. Lady Macbeth admonishes him to return to leave the blood on the grooms and the knife; Macbeth refuses. Therefore, Lady Macbeth becomes a true accomplice in the killing by doing so herself.
Shakespeare was wise to insert a bit of comic relief at this point. Early the morning following the carnage, the comical porter is awoken by knocking and told to open entry to Lennox and Macduff, the Thane of Fife, who have traveled to Macbeth’s castle to see Duncan. Macbeth leads them to the King’s room where he quickly dispatches the two grooms before they can awaken and defend themselves, saying he was so filled with anger he couldn’t contain himself.
Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well; their flight makes them suspects of the murder and, as a kinsman of the dead king, Macbeth assumes the throne of Scotland. Banquo is unsure of Macbeth, remembering the witches’ prophecy about Banquo’s descendants inheriting the throne.
Macbeth visits the three witches once more and asks them to reveal the meaning of their prophecies. They tell him to be leery of Macduff, that he cannot be harmed until Brinam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle and that Macbeth can not be harmed by man of woman born.
Lennox enters and tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth orders Macduff’s castle to be seized and sends murderers to slaughter Macduff, as well as his pregnant wife and children. Although Macduff is no longer in the castle, everyone therein is put to death.
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth becomes filled with guilt from the crimes she and her husband have committed. At night, in the king’s palace at Dunsinane, a doctor and a gentlewoman talk of the Lady’s habit of sleepwalking when, she suddenly enters in a trance, bemoaning the murders of Duncan, et al. She tries to wash off imaginary bloodstains from her hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows she pressed her husband to do.
In England, Macduff is informed by Ross of his family’s execution. Macduff is stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces. They lead the army against Dunsinane Castle. While encamped in Birnam Wood, the soldiers are ordered to cut down and carry tree limbs to camouflage their numbers.
Before Macbeth’s opponents arrive, he receives news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair he nevertheless awaits the English and fortifies Dunsinane. He is certain that the witches’ prophecies guarantee his invincibility, but is struck with fear when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood, in apparent fulfillment of one of the prophecies.
A battle culminates in Macduff’s confrontation with Macbeth, who boasts that he has no reason to fear Macduff, for he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff declares that he was “from his mother’s womb, untimely ripped” (born by Caesarean section) and is not “of woman born” fulfilling the second prophecy. Macbeth realizes too late that he has misinterpreted the witches’ words. Though he realizes that he is doomed, he continues to fight. Macduff kills and beheads him, thus fulfilling the remaining prophecy.
With Macbeth dead, Malcolm discusses how order has been restored. The new King of Scotland declares his benevolent intentions for the country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.
Bujeaud is aided in her presentation of this timeless work by Erin Manza Chanfrau as Set Designer. Chanfrau gives the stage a gray, dream-like set with several entrances left, right, up and down stage; even what looks like a giant culvert up stage right, which allows actors access to the stage as well as a hiding or sleeping space. A minimum of set pieces are bought on and off stage to change the venue, such as a throne for the King’s audience chamber, tables for a dining hall and a giant cauldron for the witches to stir.
Michele Graves does the costume design. Niclas Olson does lights; Dylan Twiner is in charge of sound; Jeffery Weaver does props, hair and make-up. Freddy Tse is Fight Choreographer. Nena Curley is Stage Manager.
There are 21 cast members in this production, some of whom take on more than one role. Young and old, all turn in good performances and make their mark on the play; each makes a definite statement.
Jessica Allan is a Gentlewoman who is a personal servant to Lady Macbeth. Her voice is strong and her look is genteel. Nicholas Anderson is Seyton, Macbeth’s attendant who reports events which take place outside the audience’s scope and does a nice job of it. Simon Bonsteel is Fleance, Banquo’s son who is destined to someday be king of Scotland. The young man is a fine budding thespian who does a good job in his role. Caleb Corpeno is Macduff’s son. This youngest cast member has a heart-rending death scene which he performs with true meaning and understanding.
Corbin McLaughlin plays 1st Murderer and Whey Faced Lion. McLaughlin lends an appropriate sleazy look to his character; a nice touch. Jonathan Hart is 2nd Murder and the Porter. As the 2nd Murder, Hart is dutifully evil. On the opposite spectrum, Hart also plays the sleepy Porter who is awakened to open the door for Lennox and Macduff. Hart creates the funniest part of the play in this scene; his physical manner as well as his rambling to himself as he sleepily crosses the width of the stage in response to the knocking.
Ben Stahl is Lennox, a Thane. Stahl lends a noble note to the Duncan’s court. Sean Raybell does a nice job as Angus, another Thane in the court. Maddox Pratt is Ross, a Thane of the realm. Pratt has a nice scene where she expounds on the happenings about the court.
Dennis Worrell is Duncan, King of Scotland and leader most foully murdered. Worrell carries himself like a king; he has a stately manner about him with good delivery. Kyle Yoder plays Donaldbain, Duncan’s youngest son. Yoder does quite a good job in the role. Jacob Tice turns in his usual good understanding of character as Duncan’s elder son, Malcolm.
Ethan Bujeaud is Siward and a witch. As Siward, a general of the English forces, he is a formidable soldier; as a witch, Bujeaud has a mystical note about him. He is joined in black magic by Kaylie Hussey as the Witch Mother who is enchanting in her role. The third witch is played by Jackie V.C.; a young woman who casts spells with a strong, smooth voice. Completing the coven is Laurice Roberts as Hecate, the queen of the witches. Roberts has a strong character as Hecate; she also plays Lady Macbeth’s Doctor. In that role, Roberts is outspoken and decisive.
Adrianna Littlejohn plays Lady Macduff. Littlejohn shows a loving mother who worries about her children and her dear husband and fears the future for them all. The actor’s murder scene wrings apathy from the audience.
Rodman Bolck is Macduff, the Thane of Fife. This is a pivotal role in the play. Macduff suspects Macbeth of killing the king and eventually kills Macbeth in the final act, saving Scotland from the evil usurper’s tyranny. One of the finest scenes in the play is when Macduff is told about his wife and children’s murders. Bolck is silent for a moment then quietly asks, “All gone?” as though the whole thought must take time to sink in; then he goes into an hysterical tirade of anguish at his loss – just an excellent job.
Jessica Weaver appears as Banquo. Weaver is a good actor who has the tone and look of a cross between Joan of Ark and an Amazon Warrior. Except for her loveliness, it is easy to accept Weaver doing a man’s role. The actor is able to convey masculine actions with a subdued feminine quality. Weaver turns In a very good performance.
Kathryn Philbrook is Lady Macbeth. Philbrook has some strong moments as the would-be Queen of the Scotts. Unfortunately, for some reason the director has Lady Macbeth wringing her hands in blood during the Lady’s insane sleepwalking scene, which even the script says is in her imagination. It is hard to overlook the fresh blood that can not actually be on her hands someone weeks after her involvement in Duncan’s murder. The fresh blood makes the scene one of the weakest in the play.
Dylan Twiner is Macbeth, the easily lead warrior whose wife convinces him to take matters in hands and make the prophecy come true immediately. Twiner plays the part to the hilt. The actor physically looks the part and voices the part in almost every scene. One could almost feel sorrow for the character.
“Macbeth” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through June 17 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee Sundays. A special “Pay-What-You-Can performance is scheduled for Thursday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
Tacoma Little Theatre recommends that “Macbeth” is suitable for ages 12 and up. However, if you are aware of the video games the kids play these days and the movies they favor, there seems to be nothing wrong with some younger ones experiencing a bloody good play instead of just a bloody film. A bit of culture from one of the greatest literary personages of all time never hurt anyone.