War drums sound offstage and the scene begins. The hurly burly is nearly done, and Macbeth is about to fall into a web of prophesy and ambition. Classic enthusiasts know exactly where the Scottish play goes from here. But Bare Theatre's interpretation of Macbeth attempts to push us into new directions with the inclusion of a character unique to this production. Macbeth now has a son. He doesn’t say much, as Shakespeare never wrote lines for such a character, but his inclusion, nevertheless, shades the play and brings the story closer to home.
The drama begins when Lady Macbeth and husband take it upon themselves to play the game of thrones, murdering the rightful king and taking power for themselves. But the guilt they feel from their actions drives them to ever-increasing paranoia and even madness. The Macbeth Son (played earnestly by Bevan Therien) watches this all unfold, and it's through his eyes we experience the play.
But it's not just the inclusion of a new character that Director Rebecca Blum uses to make an old play feel new. Every character is given a strand of humanity that feels unique to this production. Most notably, with the Weird Sisters. The witches (played by Lucinda Gainey, Kacey Reynolds Schedler, and Arin Dickson) are played with a toned down simplicity that humanizes them and allows us to imagine real world motivations for characters usually seen as otherworldly. There’s no doubt the sisters are certainly "weird," but this interpretation hardly paints them as evil. Lady Macbeth and her husband (played by Benji Jones and Wade Newhouse) are also played with a toned down humanity not usually seen. And it’s this focus on shades of gray that makes this production so unique.
The addition of Macbeth's son is largely more of a trade-off than a true masterstroke. It succeeds in coloring the play in new ways, but fails to bring to life aspects of the play that always made it great. In the classical interpretation, there's an intense claustrophobia in the scenes between Lady Macbeth and her husband. When done well, this claustrophobia is coupled with an odd voyeurism, making the audience feel somehow culpable in their crimes. With this production, certain intimate scenes between the Macbeths are now listened in on by their son, thus we lose the initial intimacy. Because Shakespeare never wrote lines for such a character, one has to greatly suspend their disbelief to buy the premise in the first place. However, director Blum uses what she can to make the concept work and carefully carves out lines spoken by various incidental characters for the son. If we do buy the premise, there's a well-deserved pay off in the final sequences of the play that may have you asking, "Why didn't Shakespeare think of that?"
Laura J. Parker's costume design helps ground the play even more in a world of realism, and Heather J. Strickland's fight choreography gives the feel of a historical reenactment. John Maruca's sound design is lacking and the choice to have the scene changes happen in silence creates a hollowness and a sense of tedium in wait for the next scene. Persistent microphone issues also hampered Friday night's production. Faulty mics made dialogue dip in and out and over amplify superfluous sounds such as clamoring armor, distracting our attention.
What Rebecca Blum's interpretation succeeds at is creating a narrative that has us question how the sins of the parents pollute the next generation. This is something we've all been desperately grappling with in the wake of the Charleston shootings. Many still want to paint the picture of a lone gunman apart from culture, but it is much more truthful and painful to trace these dehumanizing obscenities back through a history of White Supremacy to what President Obama called "our nation's original sin" of slavery. Macbeth and son know all too well that we create our own monsters, and the origins of crime and sin are usually closer to home than we'd like to think.
Macbeth continues through Sunday, June 28 at Raleigh Little Theatre's Stephenson Amphitheatre, after which the production will transfer to Forest Theater in Chapel Hill from July 24-August 1. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.