Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre marks their 90th birthday with a thrilling version of William Shakespeare’s MACBETH, the shortest—and bloodiest—of the bard’s tragedies. Directed by Dan Hodge, the production runs from October 17th to November 17th in the company’s 1840 grist mill, whose rough stone walls add to the overall atmosphere.
Hodge has chosen to emphasize the play’s supernatural aspects (with characters calling on the spirits to aid them throughout), and has set the action during World War I—a time when mysticism and the paranormal were quite popular. Written in 1606, MACBETH tells the tale of a brave Scottish general driven by ambition to murder the reigning king and usurp his throne. Shakespeare was paying homage to his new patron, James the First, the Scottish king who had inherited England’s throne from Queen Elizabeth I. Hodge starts the performance with a battle; we hear the rumble of bombs and gunfire, we see soldiers rushing back and forth, and then a dying young man lays on the stage.
By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes
Soon the “Weird Sisters” appear (eerily played by Rebecca Cureton, Lilly Dwoskin and Susan Wefel). Dressed in flowing black capes with hoods and gas masks, they slither onstage making animalistic noises and resembling alien sewer rats. They poke and prod the dying soldier as they start their incantations. MacBeth and Banquo appear and the witches make predictions about their futures, stating that MacBeth will be king and Banquo will sire a line of kings (which seals his fate at MacBeth’s hands). Thus the chain of horrific events begins and the bodies start piling up. Hodge keeps the action moving at a brisk pace yet gives his actors each a moment to shine. There are wonderful directorial touches throughout and the company clearly knows their characters well, making the text understandable to all.
Anchoring this strong ensemble are Jennifer Summerfield as Lady MacBeth and Jared Reed as MacBeth. Both are excellent. One of the biggest challenges in the script is that the bard gives Lady MacBeth the span of one speech (wherein she is reading a letter from her husband about the witches predictions) to decide they will make the prophecy come true by regicide. Summerfield gives the best performance of this I’ve seen. Her portrayal of a loving wife evolves beautifully into the damaged, guilt-ridden soul of the latter part of the play. Reed is a commanding presence, yet he lets the viewer see the vulnerability and fear as he sinks slowly into madness. His command of the soliloquys is brilliant.
As Banquo, Joel Guerrero gives a wonderfully calibrated performance of a loyal general who gets caught up in something beyond his imagining. (FYI: James’ family claimed to descend from Banquo.) Brian McCann is terrific as MacDuff, the man who decides to take MacBeth down. His breakdown at the news of his family’s murder is beautifully played. Rebecca Cureton does double duty as Lady MacDuff, turning in her usual solid performance. Also noteworthy is David Blatt as (among other roles) Seyton, MacBeth’s toady; his part in the murder of MacDuff’s and Banquo’s offspring is chilling. Andrew Parcell turns in an equally strong performance as both Duncan’s son Malcolm and the murderer hired by MacBeth to kill his enemies. John Lopes does a great job as both King Duncan and the Doctor, with Hedgerow stalwart Susan Wefel reappearing as the Gentlewoman who informs the physician of Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking. Rounding out the company are the always solid Zoran Kovcic as Ross and talented Hedgerow Theatre School student Eli Dietrich as Banquo’s young son Fleance.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…
Strong technical support has been provided by Hedgerow’s design team, including Zoran Kovcic’s simple yet effective set. A walkway runs along the back wall of the stage, with staircases on either side; stage left’s descends towards upstage center and stage right’s runs towards the apron of the stage at a slight angle. The actors have several places for entrances and exits and only minimal furnishings are brought on, including a table that Reed overturns during the banquet scene—and the witches use to draw a chalk pentagram. Matt Sharp has created a suitably ominous lighting design and Patrick Lamborn’s soundscape perfectly underscores the action and informs the viewer what era it is. Finally, Cathie Miglionico has done a wonderful job of costuming the entire ensemble in late 19th century garb.
Hodge and Hedgerow can be proud of this production—it is well done throughout. Some cuts have been made to the text, but nothing is missed in telling this riveting story—and the performance clocks in at about 2 hours and 20 minutes. I strongly recommend that reserve your tickets to this play as soon as you can; Hedgerow has found a unique way to usher in the Halloween season. And, as I exited the theatre Friday night, I was engulfed in the otherworldly glow of the full moon…I wonder if Hedgerow planned it that way…
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dan Hodge
October 17th—November 17th, 2013
64 Rose Valley Road
Media, Pa 19063