Seattle Shakespeare Company opened their 2022/2023 season with a beloved staple of the Shakespeare canon: Macbeth, aka “The Scottish Play” (if you’re superstitious), the witch infused drama about a Scottish king on a killing spree and the conniving wife egging him on. It’s got everything you want in a Shakespearian melodrama: witches, battles, treachery, madness, mayhem and scenes of children being murdered.
Fun for the whole family!
It’s also a very familiar story…well, at least to people who watch lots of theater or filmed adaptations of theater. Macbeth is up there with Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as the most frequently produced Shakespeare. This is probably at least my 5th or 6th time seeing a live Macbeth…it’s such a ridiculous plot and one so full of witchy gore that it’s tough to not be at least somewhat entertained. Even if you’re not a fan of Elizabethan era theater, there’s always a witch popping up or a dead baby or some other horror to perk up your interest.
Seattle Shakes has brought in frequent collaborator John Langs to direct this Macbeth which gave us hope that this production would be an interesting one; Langs has done some good work with Seattle Shakes including a very good Hamlet in 2010 and an interestingly flawed Antony and Cleopatra in 2012.
His staging of Macbeth is somewhere in-between those two productions…there are some flashes of brilliance in this production including a very strong opening scene featuring a sword drawn battle scene and use of actor performed percussion sounds to create drama, mood and suspense mostly performed by the trio of witches who are also used more extensively here than in more traditional productions of the play.
But, there are also moments when the pacing tended to drag…especially in scenes where it’s just actors talking to each other or relaying exposition. It’s a common problem I find with many American productions of Shakespeare; actors and directors tend to be more comfortable when they have action or comedy to perform in a Shakespeare play. Straight scenes of dialogue tend to be a chore because American actors and directors are terrified of performing Shakespearian verse…even the prose makes them nervous thus the American habit of actors racing and mumbling their way through the dialogue. Langs keeps the “racing” to a minimum but this cast and this production isn’t quite up to the standards of his 2010 Hamlet which was a huge success because the actors in that cast seemed very comfortable with the text. Here, not always as much.
Fortunately there’s a lot of magic, mystery and murder on hand to keep us enthralled. Langs has wisely incorporated the three witches into more scenes, lurking about being menacing and percussive. There’s some terrific blood work and imagery here with gore popping up in all sorts of places. The designs are handsome with a simple but effective set design by Pete Rush and appropriately moody lighting by Bryce Bartl-Geller and equally moody sound design by Dominic CodyKramers with added music by Marchette DuBois. The fights were very well choreographed by Geoffrey Alm with additional choreography by Amy O’Neal.
Acting wise, it’s a strong cast with many of them being veterans not only of other Seattle Shakes’ productions but of John Langs’ productions as well. Reginald André Jackson and Alexandra Tavares were both compelling enough as the devious Macbeths. Seattle veteran actress Amy Thone cast in the traditionally male role of Ross, a rather minor role in the play, is proof if you put a good actor in a small role, they’ll turn that small role into something worth playing. For once, I found myself interested in what Ross was up to onstage.
Charles Leggett was his usual fine self as Duncan, the King the Macduffs murder to snatch the throne but then he pops up in another minor role for the rest of the play and they didn’t really do much to differentiate either role so it just seems like Duncan is haunting the entire production…
The 3 Witches were good, albeit all played by young, attractive actors which rather makes lines about them being hideous crones rather nonsensical. I’ve always wanted to see the Witches played by three older grandmotherly types with tight perms and grim smiles but everyone always makes them hags or too young and fetching. Still I liked this trio (Lindsay Welliver, Esther Okech, and Varinique “V” Davis) lurking about being menacing in the background like beatboxers in the shadows of alleys threatening to break out into a medley of goth standards from the 1990s.
So, it’s a bit mixed for me, this Macbeth, but overall I did enjoy it. It has flashes of greatness throughout including that terrific opening scene and just enough blood, gore and witchery to make it an appropriately ghoulish night of Shakespearian theater.