Although generally the tragedies and the histories are not the best choices for outdoor summer Shakepeare, Wooden O’s production of “MacBeth” was very solid. Fortunately, the actors were of the caliber where the text came alive and served to re-enforce the onstage drama rather than being ponderously delivered, as so often happens.
The story tells the tale of the consequences of ambition getting the better of morality on two levels: the unfolding of the outward events of regicide, civil war and foreign intervention, and the inner decline of the perpetrators of the regicide: MacBeth and his good lady wife, Lady MacBeth.
Technically, outdoor Shakespeare can be notoriously difficult; however, the costumes & man-made set, in browns and blacks, stressed the tragic and somber themes of the play. The natural amphitheatre had extremely good visibility and the show was audible, because there was a row of trees on rising ground in back of the “stage” The presence of a dry “moat” between the grassy stage and the audience created the distance necessary to make the battle scenes dramatic and watchable, rather than oppressive.
MacBeth, played by Reginald André Jackson, and Lady MacBeth, played by Tracy Hyland, extracted every milligram of drama from the text and effectively engaged the audience in their moral conflicts and eventual psychological declines.
The fight choreography at times was exciting and dramatic at other times it was slow and ponderous. Although the last sword fight between MacDuff, played by Shawn Belyea and MacBeth was generally good, the final death blow took a long time in coming and was too stagey.
The director, Tim Hyland, cast non-traditionally. It worked well with MacBeth, played by a fine African-American actor, who came across as a great warrior, but one who could also articulate moral and emotional dilemmas. However the non-traditional casting of the witches was confusing. They were costumed like pre-pubescent girls in early Victorian white dresses with pantalets; as a result, it stylistically did not fit with the rest of the play. It is fine to play against stereotypes but it is good to change the language to reflect what is happening on stage. MacBeth addresses them as hags, when visually and vocally they were anything but. The scene where MacBeth goes into a trance with a dubbed and altered voice seemed like it belonged in an early Star Trek episode rather than in this otherwise good production.
The play moved along at a speedy dramatic and intense pace. However, the scenes in between Banquo’s ghost’s appearance at the dinner table, until the murder of MacDuff’s wife, where the diplomatic machinations are recounted verbally to the audience, dragged a little.
The director, Tim Hyland, used some simple but highly potent special effects to scare the bejesus out of MacBeth and the audience. Banquo’s ghost popping up, at the banquet table was extremely effective. The parade of MacDuff and Malcolm’s army through the audience carrying “Birnham Wood” branches was impressive.
If I were teaching High School English, this is a production I would bring my classes to see. The drama came through, the language was clear and engaging and it demonstrated how simple creativity and good vocal production is more effective than CGI hardware.
“MacBeth” by William Shakespeare, Wooden “O” productions. Seattle Center Sunday July 31st at 6 pm. Also at Luther Burbank Park, Ampitheatre on Mercer Island. July 28, 29 and 30th at 7 pm. Free to the public. www.shakespeare.org/woodeno