Macbeth Brings Fresh But Classic Shakespeare to AAC

6 min read

Some stories will never get old. William Shakespeare’s tragic history of Macbeth may be performed forever, but unlike many of Shakespeare’s other works, it seems to draw some of its strength from its age. An ancient story when the Bard first heard it, Macbeth contains a certain primality, and deals with a sense of destiny that reaches back into prehistory. The search for power with a disregard for human suffering is recognized by all viewers, but the message reverberates well with today’s world.
Director Nina Pinchin approached this production of Macbeth with modern themes in mind, but there is a traditionalist streak at the heart of this version that cannot be suppressed. In staging the play as an annual ceremony repeated by a group of witches, Pinchin creates a feeling of timelessness, and a link back to a less ordered, more violent world. Indeed, this production was very interested in violence and death scenes, emphasizing their brutality through complex choreography. With their long wooden staves, the Scottish court appeared to bludgeon and impale each other in the heat of rage, and the victims usually flailed for a few moments after their deaths. As one of Shakespeare’s more violent works, Macbeth takes on more momentum when these instances are explored with grim pleasure as they are here.
Cooper Jennings is the undisputed man of the hour in his role as Macbeth, playing the time-worn character with an elastic focus that engages the audience with directness, especially during soliloquies. Jennings never allows the words of his lines to drive his performance, avoiding soaring melodrama for a kind of understated power. His Macbeth was perfectly functional in the opening scenes of the play, quietly lusting for the “golden round” while pondering the truth of the witches’ prophecy. It is only after the character’s “vaulting ambition” begins to take hold in the second act and beyond that he truly made the role his own. Jennings portrays Macbeth’s fears and anxieties with ease, making use of a blunt practicality to express his growing evil. These moments of gradual degradation were the high points of Jennings’ performance, emphasized over the ever-popular “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” speech and other more obvious moments.
Yet no Macbeth is worth a damn without a formidable Lady Macbeth to spur him on to murder. Thankfully, Claire Pritchard ‘20 absolutely tackled the role. It is refreshing to see some nuance in the Macbeths: these are not scheming Disney villains, but a pragmatic young couple who simply can’t let a good opportunity go by. Pritchard’s Lady Macbeth seems far more self-controlled than Jennings’ Macbeth, wielding great power over scenes without bombastic appeals or the traditional trappings of an “evil queen.” When she finally descends into madness at the end of the play, there is a genuine pity to be felt for her. Pritchard’s precise facial expressions are those of a woman lost in the horror of her own actions.
The play’s overall balance hinged on the performances that supported the Macbeths: fortunately they were solid, invested student work across the board. It seems likely that more than a few productions of Macbeth have been brought down by over-or-under-zealous witches. The Weird Sisters as performed by Jaymie Bianca ’21, Aysha Salam ’18, and Divina Lama ’21 had such a purity of source in their tone and movement that they were easily one of the most refined aspects of the performance. Some of this stems from their traditional take on the crones, but a certain dance or gymnastic influence among the three made the truly ragged renditions seem to glide over the stage. Such harmonious casting as in this case is to be applauded.
James Calabresi was strong in his supporting role of Banquo, who foiled Jennings’ coolness as the thane of Glamis with a certain charming forcefulness that was unexpected but which felt right. As a ghost stalking across the stage, Banquo is livid and frightening in a way that is difficult to capture.
Callum O’Connell’s MacDuff drew much attention for his balanced and forceful delivery. As a reactionary figure to the horror and gore of the play, MacDuff’s most important scenes are those when he must react to the news of murder. O’Connell was admirable in his emotional dedication in the scene where his character mourns for his family. Without these emotional scenes, the expression of violence in the play might feel somewhat unearned, but O’Connell’s emotional depth tips the scales.
Lehlabile Davhana ’19 is completely honorable and regal in her role as King Duncan, who is murdered by Macbeth for power. Her strong and declarative voice is a natural source of power that can be felt throughout the play.
The visual perfection of the production was never more clearly expressed than when the entire cast gathered on stage together. These moments remind the viewer of the choice to make each character a member of a clan of witches, a choice which, while rarely impactful, is a visual influence that can always be felt. The costumes, designed by Elinor Watts, were absolutely captivating, drawing influence from the witchcraft-imbued setting to arrive somewhere between the cascading tunics of feudal Britain and the leafiness of Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
his version of Macbeth was sumptuously staged, and presented in a well-contained atmosphere of gloom and magic. Scenic Designer Christopher Hoyt created a supernaturally beautiful space for the events of the play to transpire in. The stone structures and the withered-looking tree in center-stage were the factors that most evoked a magical version of the Scottish highlands. None of these effects would have worked, however, without some of the finest and best executed lighting design the stage at Garmany Hall has seen in many years, here executed by lighting designer Robyn Joyce. The light that framed the scenes of the play captured the purplish glare of evening with great effect in several scenes, also frequently relying on a hazy red light to indicate violence and battle.

COURTESY OF Painting by Diana Rose Smith ’19

It is pleasing to feel the success of a play while watching it, and Macbeth presented its audience with that comforting sensation at every turn. Pinchin has created an ethereal, dazzling world of her own in which this most timeless of plays can unfold. When a well-tuned cast takes the stage, the mixture is as mood-inducing as dry ice and water.

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