A Night at the Theater: Macbeth

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performing arts Macbeth

My number one anticipated night of the month was, oddly enough, not Halloween. It was October 26th, a quiet and snowy Thursday night. Because I was off to the theater.

I enjoy the arts, especially the performed variety, but I don’t go as often as I should. In fact, it’s probably been a few years since I last visited the theater. Inspired by the trip to the ballet, I started looking for more shows I could attend. When I saw a newspaper review of Macbeth, directed by Robert O’Hara, it was a no-brainer decision to get myself a ticket.

Summary

Macbeth is the ol’ Scottish tragedy by the great William Shakespeare. Opening on the battle field between the Scottish forces of King Duncan and the defeated invading forces of Ireland and Norway separately. Duncan promotes general Macbeth to be Thane of Cawdor after hearing about his brave feats on the battlefield. A messenger is sent to tell Macbeth this.

Elsewhere, Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet three witches, who foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. Banquo isn’t left out entirely: according to the witches, he will not be king, but his future sons will sit on the throne. Sure enough, the messenger arrives to announce that Macbeth is now the thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo go to meet with the king, who is invited to stay the night at Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth sends a letter ahead to his wife, explaining the news.

Filled with ambition, Lady Macbeth seizes on the prophecy that her husband will be king. When Macbeth arrives, she plots with him to secure his advancement: death to King Duncan before the morning. Macbeth needs a bit of convincing, but that night he does kill the king and, with the help of his wife, frames the guards as the murderers. Duncan’s sons, fearing for their own lives, flee the country.

Macbeth and Lady M both spiral into madness churned from their guilt in the coming scenes. Macbeth, plagued with paranoia, makes his situation worse by ordering the deaths of those he believes will usurp him: Banquo, who knows of the prophecy, and Macduff, a thane that has his suspicions and sailed away to rally Duncan’s son, Malcolm, to war.

War approaches between Macbeth and Malcolm. On the night of battle, Lady M dies off stage. Macbeth, strengthened by a new prophecy from the witches that he cannot be harmed by any man born of woman, terrorizes on the battle field. That is, until he meets Macduff, who was cut from his mother and therefore was not born. Macbeth is killed and Malcolm ascends the throne.

The Space Theater

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has about eight theaters. Most notably is the Buell, used for big productions like Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera. Significantly smaller and built in the round, the Space Theater was used for Macbeth, and I can’t imagine a more perfect stage.

Painted with circles and runes beneath a pentagram light, the stage was set as the warlock’s temple. Told from their perspective, the story was set to be a bit darker and futuristic. At the start of the play, I knew the staging was going to be important: the warlocks entered and looked directly at the audience as they circled the stage, inviting and welcoming us to their stage.

The Applause program for Robert O'Hara's production of Macbeth at the Space Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The theater, before the production begins, is cast in purple light.

The Play

O’Hara’s Macbeth was performed by an all-male cast, but not in the traditional “that’s how it was in Shakespeare’s time” sort of way. Intrigued by the line “You should be women/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so”, O’Hara transformed the witches into warlocks, and yes, they had beards. This lead to a magnified analysis of masculinity as it appear in the play, as gender is already a main topic for study with Macbeth.

To make everything that much better, the costumes consisted of tattoos, leather, buckles, and not much else.

A futuristic and fun flair was added to the play with techno club music, drunken acts, and suggestive motions that many of the Scottish nobles enjoyed the snow, if you get what I mean. It was startling at first, and many of the older audience members around me seemed a bit perturbed, but I quickly found it to be fitting and entertaining. O’Hara and the cast choreographed dance and action scenes; my favorite was the warlocks dancing around Hecate in the cave, covered in glow and the dark paint and blending a mixture of movement styles to create something tribal, futuristic, and mesmerizing.

 

My Thoughts

A screenshot of Belle's phone. In the notepad app, Belle wrote questions to ask the director and cast members of Macbeth after the theater performance. Belle poses with her copy of the Applause theater program from Macbeth at the Denver Center for the Performing ArtsI absolutely loved the play and was so happy to have gone. A William Shakespeare fan, English literature nut, and lover of gothic and witch stories- this production was right up my alley.

What made the night all the better for me was being able to ask the director and some cast members questions after the play, which was something I had not expected. I spent my time during intermission quickly typing questions into my phone’s notepad in preparation.

I was most grateful that Adam Poss, who played Lady Macbeth (and brilliantly, I might add), was one of the actors to come out for the Q&A session. During the play, I noticed that Lady M was not a drag queen, especially feminine, and was not especially done up to be the opposite gender of the actor. Yes, Lady M wore a skirt, was a bit softer and more sultry than her full-male counterparts, but something felt…different. I asked where the line was drawn between masculine and feminine–if at all–from the actors and from the director, and I loved Poss’s answer:

He said that while rehearsing, O’Hara often directed Poss and Ariel Shafir (Macbeth) to switch back and forth between roles. Eventually the switches were so quick that they had little time to get into character, so it was no longer “I am a woman” vs. “I am a man”; it became “I want, therefore I will do ____” and “I desire, so I will ____”. It was no longer genders, but desires that dictated actions.

I was blown away by that insight and that result, and found my observations during the play put into words.

Related Reading: A Day at the Ballet: Dracula

Go to the theater. Go to anything and everything that sparks your interest. Go with friends, family, or by yourself. I loved being at the theater for Macbeth by myself because I didn’t have to worry about a friend elbowing me in the middle of a scene to ask for a translation or if she would be too tired to stay for the Q&A afterwards. That night at the theater was incredible, and something I won’t soon forget.

 

 

 

October 31, 2017
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