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We all know that life’s but a walking shadow and a poor player, but in the Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s production of “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s most famous characters revealed much more. This unconventional production succeeded not only because of its strong cast but also because of the revitalizing nature of its experimental choices.
From the start, the set, which comprised of a broken deconstructed castle, perfectly echoed the fragmented minds of the leads while also encapsulating the disorder that accompanied much of the play. The warm lighting and the eerie soundtrack added a supernatural element to this atmosphere. The choice to frame soliloquies and moments of anguish with a red background or warm spotlights served as a good way to expose the truth amongst the many false political moments.
The soundtrack of the humming chords whenever the dead and the witches were present on stage breathed into these scenes a strangely ethereal quality that matched the slow, crouching movements these actors used to traverse the stage. The characters were also dressed in modern clothing, with many costumes, like the royal courts’ business suits and Lady Macbeth’s high heels and black cocktail dress, matching the formality of their characters. It seemed director Kier W. Zimmerman ’19, an inactive Crimson news editor, had done much to pare down the typical pomp that accompanies this popular production, instead imbuing a simplicity that made it more accessible to the audience.
One of the play’s strongest features was undoubtedly its stellar and gender-blind cast. “O gentle lady,/ ‘Tis not for you to hear what I speak:/ The repetition, in a woman’s ear,/ Would murder as it fell,” a grieving Macduff (Ben I. Ubiñas ’19) protested to Lady Macbeth (Lindsay T. McAuliffe ’20) when she questioned him about Duncan’s murder. [There was a refreshing tinge of irony as a female Banquo (Balım Baructçu ’19) immediately crossed the stage and was given the news without hesitation. Such moments of glaring irony, peppered throughout the production, not only fascinated but also provoked valid questions regarding power and its relationship to gender.
Harvard Law School student Patrick Witt played Macbeth with curious dichotomy of violence and vulnerability that exposed his character’s tortured psyche. He delivered his bout of madness and guilt following Duncan’s murder with a tangible mix of confusion, insanity and fear. His performance created a palpable tension underscored by many of the characters entering and exiting the stage not only through the stage’s curtains but also through the audience’s exit. This staging worked in such a way as to make the characters feel closer and more real, as if the audience had been transported into this world of political strife.
Hyperion also completely reinvented the traditional role of the witches (played by Mason P. M. Sands '20, Sophia Jackman ’20, Ali L. Astin ’19). As they carried a flimsy elastic white sheet in which they enveloped the dead, the contours of limbs and faces protruded through this veil in a creepy, disembodied manner that successfully characterized the external agents of fate and death with a darkness and otherworldliness. Several of the witches’ lines were also redistributed to the troop of dead that followed them. At times, these dragged-out movements felt slightly over the top among the other minimalist elements of the play, but overall, this change continued to heighten the eeriness and served as a gentle reminder of death’s constant presence.
In another creative divergence, this “Macbeth” featured a pregnant Lady Macbeth. This decision surprisingly dovetailed with Lady Macbeth’s role, which McAuliffe played with a confidence and bravado that was at once captivating and entrancing. Each gesture and interaction with Macbeth was filled with a controlling lasciviousness that continued to fuel the ambiguity about who really holds the power within their relationship.
One of the most poignant moments of the play was perhaps MacDuff’s grief after being informed of the murder of his wife and children. Ubiñas gave a moving performance of despair, underscoring the importance of his final battle with Macbeth. Their well choreographed and exciting fight scene proved an excellent means of releasing all the tension that had been building from the start of the play.
Among many strong artistic choices, the breaking of the fourth wall by Lennox (Nick D. Hornedo ’19) in the middle of the first half of the play was less successful. While its intention might have been to bring relief and humor following Duncan’s grisly murder, which it partially achieved, it mostly engendered a kind of awkwardness and confusion. It felt too forced and out of place, breaking up the tension and mass of emotions that the play had so effectively built.
While this choice might not have worked as successfully, the play’s other creative liberties supplied a thought-provoking freshness that livened up a play that at times can feel too familiar. Along with this freshness, the Hyperion production’s powerful acting, cast and staging made it a thoroughly enjoyable show and a brilliant interpretation of the Bard’s classic.
Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth ran from Oct. 13 to 16 in the Agassiz Theater.
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