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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shakespeare in the Park: Macbeth

As an English major and teacher, I have always had a huge respect and love for the works of William Shakespeare. Although I have read many of his plays and sonnets, and seen several film adaptations of his works (i.e. Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando, Roman Polanski's Macbeth, or Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet), I have rarely had the opportunity to experience Shakespeare in it's true form, that of live theatre. Fortunately, Dallas has had a long tradition of the performing arts since 1971 with their popular "Shakespeare in the Park" series. Thursday night I got to experience an extraordinarily unique performance of one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare plays...Shakespeare Dallas presents: MACBETH at the Samuell Grand Amphitheatre. Directed by Stefan Novinski and starring Chris Hury as Macbeth and Joanna Schellenberg as Lady Macbeth. This production of Macbeth presents us with a more modern setting, utilizing modern military uniforms and gear like that used in the Iraq War. Even the stage has a Middle Eastern/desert feel to it with most of the stage covered in sand. The most unique characteristic of the stage is the slanted or "raked" appearance of the backdrop, a Middle Eastern-like building with six doorways. Throughout the entire play this unique setting made for an interesting and skewed look which complimented the theme of the play. The production also utilized an impressive combination of lighting, special effects and music to enhance the performance, even so far as to replace the weaponry with realistic machine guns and sound effects such as explosions and helicopter sounds. Being an outdoor performance, there were certain elements (some beyond the control of the production) that did not benefit the experience. While a seemingly quiet park area, Samuell Grand Park in Dallas is very close to a busy street as well as Love Field Airport, where frequent disruptions from both traffic noise and airplanes flying overhead were very distracting. Unfortunately, through most of the first act of the play, the sound system was experiencing technical difficulties with the actor's microphones, but thankfully the problem was fixed long before the intermission. The most outstanding performances came from both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, as well as actor Steven Young who plays King Duncan and Mentieth, who was delightfully loud and boisterous, and reminded me of Brian Blessed. Like many independent stage plays, several of the actors and actresses also played dual-roles. The play also includes a number of child actors who played Macduff's children as well as the apparitions during the famous "Double, double toil and trouble" witches scene (one of my favorite scenes!). Aside from the military costumes, one of the most striking costumes was that of Lady Macbeth who had many costume changes, starting with a very sleek and sexy red dress and then later in a long black dress for most of the play. It is always disappointing in the climax of the play that Lady Macbeth, who is definitely the main antagonist in the play, gets an off-stage death as we only hear her scream from behind stage. I particularly loved the scenes involving the drunken Porter and of course Banquo's bloody ghost when he appears at the banquet. I was surprised to see the actress who played Lady Macduff (Donjalea Chrane) as she seemed convincingly pregnant, but as she also played one of the witches, I realized it was part of her costume. The scene in which the assassins Mentieth and Cathness murders Lady Macduff and her children is disturbingly brutal! One of the most fascinating props in the play is a large round table on the right of the stage which served both as the table in the banquet scene and as the cauldron during the witches scene which was equipped with a rising platform in order for the apparitions to appear. The final battle between Macbeth and Macduff was especially exciting as they fought in a stylized-choreographed style incorporating swords and a modern martial-arts style of hand-to-hand combat. The play was an amazing experience. I was worried that the modern/military setting would take something away from the performance but as the lines and dialogue were not changed it was just as impressive as a traditional performance. Shakespeare Dallas presents Macbeth is continuing through September 22 - 29 at Samuell Grand Amphitheatre and October 3-October 14 at Addison Circle Park. If you have an opportunity to see it, I highly recommend it!

Macbeth, Image courtesy of The Dallas Observer
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more." - Macbeth

LINKS: ShakespeareDallas.orgShakespeare Online