“Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!’” As sinister as this line is, it captures the effectiveness of Mask & Bauble’s production of Macbeth—this fresh version of the play presents no danger of inducing naps. Rather than dryly rehashing the Shakespearean classic of fond high school English memories, the innovative production breathes life into an ageless tale of dark ambition.
A collaboration between the Theater and Performance Studies program and Mask & Bauble, the play caps off a year-long focus on Macbeth by director Maya Roth. Her fall seminar, Macbeth: Witches, War, and Performance, analyzed the classic from every possible angle and allowed its students to experience various live performances that each put a unique spin on the play. From a silent version to an interactive, site-specific dance theater performance in an abandoned New York warehouse, students were able to experience Macbeth in ways that stripped the play down to its base elements of blurred consciousness and nightmarish brutality.
Evidently, this exposure translated into an effective ensemble production on Georgetown’s own stage. With 15 cast members each performing multiple roles, both the actors and their audience are forced to understand the interdependency of every character. According to Roth’s note in the program, the ensemble approach begs the question, “Whose nightmare is it? It passes from one character to the next, shared across times, across people, haunted by fears…it’s a cycle of nightmares streaming in and out of each other.” The audience experiences this eerie atmosphere upfront through warm lighting that recalls the image of blood and ghostly visitations from murdered characters; Roth’s directing vision is realized in that it is never clear whose consciousness the play inhabits.
The flawless combination of performance elements, from moody lighting to an impressively macabre set reminiscent of a Tim Burton film, evoke the nightmarish atmosphere of the play. In Roth’s words, “Ultimately, the power of this staging is that we use ensemble to trace how the nightmares spiral, fusing with our own.” Designed by Professor Natsu Onoda Power, the set features a twisted red tree and a platform that allows easy movement for the ensemble. Rather than confining themselves to the stage, actors flit in and out of trapdoors built into the set and spontaneously walk down the aisles and the box seats on each side of the theater. The climactic scene, in which Byrnam Wood moves to Dunsinane, presents its own surprise in the form of hanging trees that actors use to swing in and out of action à la Tarzan.
The titular character and his murderous wife, Lady Macbeth, are played with convincing madness by Ben Prout (COL ’15) and Maria Edmunson (COL ’12). Their downward spiral into murderous ways is portrayed with chilling calm that devolves into tormented derangement. Yet strong performances across the board reflect the ensemble approach that Roth emphasized in the production. “Each of these characters participates in a strand of the tapestry of what spirals dangerously awry,” she wrote in the program. Every actor contributes to this collective sense of havoc. Worlds collide as the living and the dead mingle, while the waking and dreaming realms are blurred. War and brutality invite this chaos, meaning that a tree swinging into the audience is always a possibility.