Double, double toil and trouble, indeed! Clearly, something is rotten in Scotland and, well, buckle up, buttercup… Nashville Shakespeare Festival is about to take you on a vivid, visceral, bloody-good ride through Shakespeare’s Scottish play
Chances are strong that you’ve read William Shakespeare’s 1606 work, Macbeth. It should need very little introduction. Here in fair… uhh… Dunsinane… where we lay our scene, a tale as old as time of avarice, malice, murder, and insane ambition unfolds. But don’t expect a romanticized Scotch plaid fantasia weth reeeley baaaaad acksent werke akin to Braveheart. Instead, think of an earlier Mel Gibson flick: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as the mood board for this Macbeth.
In this Macbeth, you will find no battlements, no kilts, and (well, sadly) no Tina Turner singing “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (But we’ll let that slide. Seriously, though, next time…) I’d love to be able to tell you that post-Apocalyptic doesn’t work for Shakespeare, but give me three witches wearing gas masks like something that walked out of a Maxo Vanka mural and I’m going to be A-Okay with it. I’ve seen a couple Macbeths in my day and this is legitimately the first time that the witches have been suitably eerie and, frankly, terrifying. And, thankfully, the entire world goes with that same theme of putting you way off your expectations.
From the very outset, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a mannerly BBC adaptation of the play. Set designer Jim Manning places us in a nightmarish hellscape of the burned, melted, and trashed. Jocelyn Melechinsky’s costumes, which range from steampunk to TRON to the fantastically spooky witches’ looks that I mentioned earlier, further set this spectacular production apart. Inside the intimate space of Belmont University’s Troutt Theatre, the show is practically on top of you and the fight scenes, co-choreographed by Carrie Brewer and David Wilkerson, feel immediate and, even lacking gore, quite violent.
Leading the cast as the hosts with the most (blood on their hands), Sam Ashdown and Mariah Parris, as Macbeth and his Lady, have all the conscience of Pol Pot crossed with feral cats. It’s conquest by blood, courtesy of two people whose manifest madness would probably make them eligible for a limited Neflix docuseries these days. As Ashdown’s Macbeth comes unglued and Parris’ Lady Macbeth’s steely resolve goes limp, it’s a terrifying spiral to the grave with a high body count.
As the witches, Kit Bulla, Delaney Keith, and Natalie Rankin are not your garden-variety hags in rags over a bubbling cauldron of green goo. No, this is live from the World War I-esque trenches of Hell with a level of effectiveness I dare not spoil for you before you see the show. Their use of the entire unit set allows them to appear and vanish before your – and the characters’ – eyes. And what they do with Banquo, Macbeth’s murdered friend… yeah, you’re not soon going to forget that.
Where this production gets even more interesting is by flipping the Shakespearan tradition of male actors playing female roles and having actresses take on some lead male characters in Macbeth. Elyse Dawson’s Macduff is all badass, all the time and it makes for an especially interesting twist on one of the witches’ prophecies. (Think Eowen in The Lord of the Rings.)
Macbeth is categorized as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. But one begins to reflect on the nature of the term. In a general sense, the blood and chaos unleashed by the Macbeths’ greed and total amorality (or is it actual immorality?) is not a tragedy for the title characters. More precisely, Macbeth is a tragedy for the people who got in the way of prophecy. Perhaps, too, for the sense of humanity. We all know what people are capable of. We see it every day, populating and polluting the evening news.
Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth provides a fresh, all the way in your face look at the work most of us trudged through in high school. Director David Wilkerson’s audacious take, combined with the set, casting, and presentation, throws the old expectations out and, even with Shakespeare’s language intact, makes the play a pressing and present look into what madness and wickedness can leave in their wake.
Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth continues at Belmont’s Troutt Theatre through January 26th before continuing on to Franklin, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, and Clarksville. Check their site for details and dates.
Read more by O&AN’s Will here.