Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bloody MACBETH Goes Terribly Right at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Has there ever been a time when Shakespeare's Macbeth fell out of fashion? Just within the past few years, the Scottish lord and his murderous ways have been everywhere. A BBC/Great Performances Macbeth with Patrick Stewart in the title role and Kate Fleetwood as his ferocious Lady M was a powerful presence on US televisions in 2010; Sleep No More, an interactive Macbeth experience from England's Punchdrunk company, has had audiences wandering over five floors of what is supposedly an abandoned hotel in New York's Chelsea district since March of 2011; Alan Cumming currently has a one-man Macbeth on Broadway; and Kenneth Branagh just launched his own Macbeth, with Alex Kingston (Doctor Who, ER) as his Lady, at the Manchester International Festival.

In our own area, a "backwards" Macbeth made an impact at U of I in 2010, when director Robert G. Anderson put the audience on the stage and the dark, destructive action of the play on the apron and in the seats of Krannert Center's Colwell Playhouse. In Bloomington, Macbeth was on the schedule back in 1978 when the Illinois Shakespeare Festival first opened its doors, and it's come back to the Festival stage in 1983, 1992 and 2005.

The 2013 incarnation of Macbeth for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is directed by Robert Quinlan, who returns to Bloomington-Normal, where he received his MFA in directing from Illinois State University. Quinlan's take on Macbeth is highly visual, vivid and dramatic, befitting this bloody tale of ambition gone terribly wrong. With falling banners, a thin crack of light, a twist of a doll's head, or spidery scarlet trails on Lady Macbeth's white gown, Quinlan and his designers ratchet up the theatrical tension.

Neal Moeller (Center) and Nisi Sturgis (R) as Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth
This Macbeth unspools a little slowly at the onset, but by the time darkness has settled over Ewing Manor, the action has kicked into high gear. Neal Moeller and Nisi Sturgis show good chemistry and interplay as Lord and Lady Macbeth, with his descent into paranoia and hers into madness given just the right dramatic punch.

Jordan Coughtry's Banquo, Lindsay Smiling's Macduff and Amanda Catania's Lady Macduff also make a good impression, while the two youngest actors in the cast -- 5th grader Will Lovell as Fleance, Banquo's son, and 4th grader Tré Moore as the elder Macduff child -- offer fine performances and add a great deal to the emotional toll of the play.

Fred M. Duer's simple set transforms a throne to a banquet table before your eyes, helping the haunted dinner scene come alive, while Sarah EC Maines' striking lighting design, Sandy Childers' terrific modern-meets-medieval costumes and Shannon O'Neill's atmospheric sound design combine to excellent effect.

All in all, this is a stylish, smart Macbeth that packs a punch. Especially when it gets dark.

By William Shakespeare

Illinois Shakespeare Festival
The Theatre at Ewing

Director: Robert Quinlan
Costume Designer: Sandy Childers
Scenic Designer: Fred M. Duer
Lighting Designer: Sarah EC Maines
Sound Designer/Composer: Shannon O'Neill
Fight Choreographer: Paul Dennhardt
Stage Manager: Jayson T. Waddell
Vocal Coach: Krista Scott

Cast: Eva Balistrieri, Preston "Wigasi" Brant, Amanda Catania, Jordan Coughtry, Joe Faifer, David Fisch, Martin Hanna, David Hathway, Kraig Kelsey, Carlos Kmet, Will Lovell, Drew Mills, Neal Moeller, Tré Moore, Cody Proctor, Thomas Anthony Quinn, Kevin Rich, Wendy Robie, Lindsay Smiling, Michele Stine, Nisi Sturgis, Andrew Voss and Arif Yampolsky.

Running time: 2:20, including one 15-minute intermission.

Remaining performances: July 12, 16, 20, 23, 26, 28 and 31; August 4, 6 and 8.

For ticket information, click here.

Please note that the performance of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of Macbeth which I attended was a preview, which the Festival treats as a final dress rehearsal. Over the years, I have at times written about productions based on dress rehearsals or preview performances if there was some reason I was unable to attend the official opening night. As with any production, my remarks reflect the specific performance I saw, which in this case was a preview.

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