By Natalie Starczewski, Arts Section Editor
//The Acalanes Dramadons’ latest production followed the tale of a lord and lady who desperately seek the Scottish throne, three strange witches who bring cryptic prophecies, and a string of killings set off by a single cold-blooded murder. And all of that is before the intermission.
Macbeth, familiar to most Acalanes students, explores the depths of cruelty and insanity as he endeavors to win the crown, no matter the consequences.
The play was set in a forest of layered trees, fiery flames painted on the stage licked up the sides of the stage and tree trunks.
“We used the trees as kind of a metaphor for life but those trees had lost their life, you didn’t see any leaves onstage. We were trying to go for this sort of feeling of not so much decay but like everything’s just falling apart and burning away,” Director Ed Meehan said.
The stage was lit with well-chosen atmospheric lighting. The scene could be warmed with candles lowered down across the front of the stage, made to look like natural light for daytime scenes. But at various key points in the plot, the setting was shifted to cold and eerie.
The play opened up on the three Weird Sisters (Callie Zucker, Emily Gray, and Anna Cain) as they planned to meet Macbeth. The witches wore skeletal makeup and tattered dresses as thunder boomed and spears of lightning briefly illuminated the stage.
Traveling home from their battle victory, Macbeth (Siavash Keivani) and his friend Banquo (Lia White) crossed paths with the witches as they came onstage. Ominous music played and again lighting struck as the Weird Sisters rhymed in prophecy together, sending shivers down the spines of audience members. Zucker, Gray, and Cain’s use of creature-like body language and eerie speech created an aura of mystery. They foresaw that Macbeth would one day replace Duncan (Jacob Burges) as King of Scotland, even though Macbeth seemed to doubt their dramatic prophecies, it appeared that he was perfectly happy to pledge his loyalty to Duncan.
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth (Fiona Warburton) had other plans for her husband. Warburton delivered an outstanding performance, portraying Lady Macbeth’s devious intentions through a tense and dramatic monologue. Because she thought Macbeth didn’t have the ambition required to rise to the top, she resolved that she must have that ambition for him. The first obstacle she saw blocking her husband’s success was King Duncan.
Macbeth arrived at his castle and Lady Macbeth quickly proposed the idea to murder Duncan when the king arrived.
Macbeth philosophized by himself about decision he was facing. Was he really willing to murder his cousin, his king, and the man he has pledged loyalty to? Keivani depicted perfectly the spark that set off Macbeth’s madness, the pressure Macbeth faced as he debated murder.
As soon Duncan arrived at Macbeth’s castle as a guest, Lady Macbeth managed to convince Macbeth to commit the terrible deed. Warburton’s persuasive tone and challenges to his masculinity were too much, and he gave in.
Macbeth had a vision of a bloody dagger as he prepares to kill Duncan, symbolizing his commitment to the vile task. “Is this a knife I see before me?” he said, showing a quickly unraveling mind. Macbeth has to make a decision, put on a “false face,” and leave to commit the murder of Duncan.
Once the deed was done, Keivani walked shakily out onstage with bloodied hands. He was confused and shocked after killing Duncan, breathing hard. The audience too was shocked by Macbeth’s amplifying insanity.
But by that time there was no turning back, Macbeth had to move quickly to secure his seat on the throne. Macbeth realized that Banquo cannot stay alive if he wanted to be king because the witches had prophesied that Banquo’s children would inherit the throne.
Macbeth arranged for Banquo to be slain by the murderers (Jacob Burges, Natasha Singh, and Conrad Rocha).
“Fly, Fleance, fly!” Banquo yelled to his son, as the cutthroats sprung the attack in the woods. Fleance (Sarah Miles) took one more swing at the attacking murder and fled to safety.
The Dramadons pulled off the first fight scene of the play with shocking speed and accuracy. The audience listened, impressed, as the swords clanged and the actors screamed as they lunged and parried across the stage. The stage fighting techniques were spectacular to watch.
“It was interesting to watch, doing choreography with something heavy and slightly dangerous is always difficult and I think they pulled it off very well. The sword fighting immersed you a little bit more into the world of Macbeth, if you were to have cardboard swords and no action, the play wouldn’t have felt as intense as it did,” audience member sophomore Fiona Burrows said.
Tragically, Banquo was overpowered by the murderers after they weakened him with a few lucky swipes. A murderer brought Banquo to his knees with a stab to the shoulder, allowing for the second murderer to slit his throat.
After that intensely devastating scene, the following scene offered some comic relief for the audience. A drunk porter toddled about the stage and bantered with insistent knocks on the front door. Coincidentally the porter was played by Gabi Joseph, who played a similar character in the Acalanes production of the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, the very tipsy chaperone for which the musical is named.
Meanwhile, Macbeth was getting a little drowsy himself, banqueting in celebration of his new title. Banquo was invited to the festivities but was late, of course Macbeth knew he had been murdered. But much to Macbeth’s surprise Banquo did make an appearance… As a ghost dripping in blood, only visible to Macbeth! As is to be expected, this caused Macbeth quite a fright. He saw the ghost and responded with a combination of terror and guilt. He appeared insane before his guests, as Lady Macbeth tried to cover his reaction.
After this blow, Macbeth sought reassurance in the witches. He found them surrounding a cauldron brimming with fog. They cast a spell, chanted “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”
Macbeth appeared insane as he consulted with them. His face twitched, an insane smile flickered on and off his face. The witches comforted Macbeth with prophecies of success and invincibility.
The murder of Lady Macduff (Faith Branch) and her children (Riley Morris) came next, in the form of another intricately choreographed fight scene. The murderers showed up at the Macduff household with murderous intentions. Lady Macduff lets out an ear-piercing scream as her child is stabbed, portraying the pain and rage of a heartbroken mother. The palpable fury and anguish of the scene sent chills down the spines of the audience and brought forth shocked yet amazed applause.
Meanwhile Lady Macbeth was dealing with the guilt stemming from her actions. Warburton gave an amazing portrayal of a woman haunted by her crimes. Lady Macbeth hummed an eerie tune and scrubbed her hands, giggling.
“Out, damn’d spot!” she cried.
Lady Macbeth, in a sleepwalking haze, tried to wash blood spot off her hands. She wanted to clean her stained hands, but couldn’t, for the stains weren’t really there. They were all in her head, where the guilt was.
At the same time, Macbeth’s enemies had stacked up to form a deadly force, plotting to dethrone Macbeth. Macbeth prepared to risk everything in battle, was confident in the prophesies that he thinks protect him.
But he soon realized, in an insane rage as events played out, his doom was fast approaching.
And this is may very well be the end for this murderous man, tortured by insanity.
Clearly, watching a performance of the play was a far more real experience than reading it from the pages of a book. The interactions and events were intimate and palpable. The relationships were substantial, easy to see as they played out onstage. The emotions were raw and real.
“I thought that it was a really balanced show. From some really great acting moments to some really arresting fight scenes, some really great witches. And I thought we took all of the interesting pieces to the play and we really integrated them. It went really, really well,” Meehan said.
Adapted from Issue 8, Volume 77. Originally printed May 27, 2016.