Produced by: Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by: Daniel Sullivan
Featuring: Conleth Hill (Macbeth) and Frances McDormand (Lady Macbeth, Witch), James Carpenter (Duncan, Porter), Scott Coopwood (Lennox), Derek Fischer (First murderer), Gene Gillette (Bleeding captain, Seyton), Christopher Innvar (Banquo, Siward), Eddie Ray Jackson (Donalbain), Korey Jackson (Macduff), Paul Jennings (Mentieth), Billy Eugene Jones (Ross), Leon Jones (Macduff’s son), Adam Magill (Malcolm), Rami Margron (Witch/Gentlewoman), Nicholas Pelczar (Angus, Second murderer),Tyler Pierce (Fleance), Mia Tagano (Lady Macduff, Witch), and Paul Henry and Devin O’Brien (ensemble)
When: February 19 through April 10, 2016
Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, California 94704
Tickets: $35-$145; call 1-510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org. $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain, subject to availability; groups of 10 or more, email email@example.com.
the stage at Berkeley Rep
"Ring the alarum-bell! Murder and treason!" Aye, and plenty of it. Berkeley Rep’s production of the Scottish Play is a feast for the eyes and ears. Shakespeare’s tale of scheming and murder north of the border has always riveted audiences, but this production, directed by Daniel Sullivan, really soars.
As soon as the play starts, our senses are regaled with an enormous stormy sky backdrop, and accompanying unsettling sound effects. We open with the three witches (Rami Margron, Mia Tagano, and Frances McDormand), cooking up their poison around an old tree. And when they are done, the tree suddenly rises up and is torn by the roots into the sky.
When Macbeth (played by Conleth Hill) and Banquo (Christopher Innvar) encounter the witches, they greet Macbeth as thane of Glamis and thane of Cawdor, and yet he is only thane of Glamis. The witches clearly know something and they add to the mystery with their "All hail Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!"
And as suddenly as the witches disappear, the set changes into the inner walls of a castle. The walls go up to the rafters above the stage and are really magnificent. In fact, with the use of projections, lights and see-through walls, the whole set design by Douglas W. Schmidt (and lighting by Pat Collins) is brilliant. It also ensures that the scenery changes with minimal fuss and delay, keeping the action moving.
Macbeth has defeated Norway and it becomes clear that the thane of Cawdor was working with Norway and so is a traitor and must be put to death. "There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face," says Duncan, king of Scotland, "he was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust." Duncan, played by James Carpenter, gives Macbeth Cawdor’s title and so the first of the witches’ prophesies comes true, and Macbeth begins to think that maybe he could be king as well.
Duncan decides to spend the night at Macbeth’s castle in Inverness and Lady Macbeth, played without a shred of remorse by the wonderful Frances McDormand, having heard of the witches’ prophesies from her husband, persuades Macbeth to make the prophesy come true by killing the king. Lady Macbeth really is a piece of work, exclaiming "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!"
And so, goaded on by his wife, Macbeth decides to do the deed. But visions start to wrack his brain. "Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?" he exclaims, gazing into the darkness. "Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not and yet I see thee still." He stabs Duncan as he sleeps, lays the daggers by his drugged and sleeping chamberlains, and reports back to Lady Macbeth.
The next day the porter, played brilliantly by James Carpenter, hearing a knocking at the door, shows us the origin of the "Knock, knock" joke, and gives a wonderful treatise on the connection between drink and lechery. "It provokes the desire, but takes away the performance."
With Duncan’s two sons fled lest suspicion fall upon them, which it does, Macbeth is crowned king and the witches’ second prophesy comes true. He immediately starts to worry how to secure his position. "To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus…" The witches have also prophesied that Banquo will give rise to a line of kings, and so Macbeth plans to have him and his son murdered as well. Unfortunately for Macbeth, Banquo’s son Fleance (Tyler Pierce) escapes.
Macbeth sees more and more visions of his murdered victims, and to his wife’s dismay, appears to descend into madness at a banquet. In some of his rantings, Hill’s Macbeth bore an uncanny and unsettling resemblance to one Donald P. Trump, and my theater partner thought exactly the same thing. Worrying.
Duncan’s son Malcolm (Adam Macgill) raises an army in England and, along with Macduff, played excellently here by Korey Jackson, marches north to attack Macbeth at Dunsinane Castle. The witches prophesy that Macbeth cannot be defeated by "one born of woman,"and only "when Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane." We all know what happens next: Macduff was born by caesarian section, and his army advances on Macbeth using boughs cut from Birnam Wood as shields. The wood appears to move (again, wonderful set design) and Macbeth is defeated and killed by Macduff, fulfilling all the witches’ prophesies.
The atmosphere of this production fairly seethes with evil and deceit. The action moves along swiftly so that even if you don’t get all of The Bard’s words, their intent and consequences are clear. The set design and lighting by Douglas W. Schmidt and Pat Collins respectively (and indeed the whole creative team) really transport you back to that murderous time. And Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand give riveting performances as Macbeth and his Lady.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org