Any time that Shakespeare is tackled by community theatre, it can be hit or miss. In his tragedies, lines need to be delivered with an incredible amount of emotion. If even one actor stumbles over a word, the entire production is thrown off. Well, in the Dramateurs’ production of MACBETH, there was not a missed line anywhere, including from first grader, Eleanor Jarrell (Child Macduff). I wonder what Eleanor told her school friends when they asked what she was doing this weekend. “Oh, I’m going to be in a play called MACBETH.” Quite the accomplishment.
I have said this before, but in a play of this magnitude, which has been done countless times, it all comes down to the director’s choices. Successful productions do things in a different way, distinguishing themselves from all the rest. Director Deb Braak’s MACBETH is all about one set (with items being carried in as they are needed), special effects, sound, and a specific color palette of black and red. It is not set in any particular time period. It is also shorter than other productions, as Braak deleted some unimportant scenes. She makes MACBETH accessible to all audiences, not just the Shakespeare lovers.
The audience is seated in a theatre-in-the-round style, facing the backdrop for the entire play…two pillars, a rock, and a blood-red background. . It reminded me very much of movies directed by Tim Burton or a few stage productions of SWEENEY TODD that I have seen. I expected Johnny Depp to come out. There is no “backstage” per se. The 21-person cast comes out primarily from the darkened lobby or up steps to enter the space.
When Hecate (Maria Jarrell) and the three witches (Michelle Quigley, Lauren Kersetter, and Adam Landon) speak, the echo of their microphones creates a really chilling effect. This is especially true in the famous “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene. Their faces are never seen until curtain call.
The best scenes are those including Laura McWater, who plays Lady Macbeth. Her resume is long, and it shows. Costume designer Jeanine Brotherson-Braak wisely places McWater in primarily black and red, which only accentuates the blood on her hands. McWater is completely believable in one of the most difficult roles on the stage. When she begins to wring her hands when the blood is real, and then when it is only imaginary, the audience knows that she is descending into madness. Macbeth (William Braak) and Lady Macbeth’s scenes show that the director did not place this into any particular time period. Looking at them together, they could be any modern-day husband and wife until they begin speaking.
Other standout performers are the Porter (Elizabeth McDonald) and Macduff (Chris Braak). In the comedic role of the night, McDonald shines as she even interacts with the audience. At this point, the comedy break is most welcome. Braak shows the appropriate level of grief when told of the fate of his family, followed by his desire for revenge.
Kudos to Chris Braak for his extraordinary fight choreography. However, I was confused as to why the swords did not have any blood on them. Perhaps they did, and I just couldn’t see any.
I feel that some of the male costumes slightly detract from the atmosphere. When Macbeth is wearing a long-sleeved button-down white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he could be working in any office in America (with the exception of the kilt). The bracelet he wears even looks like a wristwatch. However, the white shirt does completely emphasize the blood, especially when Lady Macbeth puts her hands on it. Some of the males have the misfortune of wearing long-sleeved beige shirts with their kilts, which make them look like Boy Scout troop leaders.
These small issues aside, The Dramteurs have created a highly effective and unique production of MACBETH…a tragedy with elements of a tale of horror.
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Deb Braak
October 7-16, 2011
The Dramateurs, Inc.
at The Barn Playhouse
1600 Christopher St
Jeffersonville, PA 19403