Saturday, February 12, 2011

MACBETH • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ooo… Shakespeare's MACBETH
Nothing like a play that opens with witches and prophecies!

MACBETH is such a highly revered play by such a highly revered playwright that as excited as I was to see it, I was a little intimidated at the thought of blogging about it.  But then, a really cool thing happened:  This production removed a lot of the "mystery" of Shakespeare for me.  Let's face it, as eloquent as he is, Shakespeare can be hard to understand.  (It's good to read a little synopsis first…)  There's all this decorative language that our ears aren't that used to hearing.  If you're not that familiar with his stuff, you kind of have to aggressively pay attention to what's being said.  But once you get used to it, you have the realization that his plays aren't all that mysterious.  They're plays that were written to entertain everyone from Kings to the common folks who just wanted to drink a ton of beer and see a show.  They deal with themes that are as old as time.  Shakespeare just uses iambic pentameter a lot…  This is one of the reasons I really loved this production -- it brought me that realization.

Shanara Gabrielle, Michael Keyloun
and David Graham Jones (Witches)
and Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth).
© Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Rep's production gives you an informative little introduction to the players at the start, and tells you a bit about what's going on.  Nice.  As we begin, Macbeth and Banquo have just come out on top in a battle, when they come face-to-face with these witches, the "three weird sisters".  They tell Macbeth that he is destined to become Thane of Cawdor, and after that, King of Scotland.  Shortly after, a messenger arrives with news that the current King Duncan has indeed bestowed Macbeth with the title, Thane of Cawdor.  Having the first part of the witches' prophecy fulfilled, Macbeth writes news of this to his wife, and she starts to imagine how cool it would be to be "First Lady".  They hatch a plan to murder the current King while he's staying at their castle. Their ambition for the throne propels them into a murderous spree that ends up haunting them both.  Macbeth starts seeing ghosts all over the place (a truly amazing scene), and Lady Macbeth spends her time trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands as she sleepwalks in the night.  But there are more prophecies to be told.  At one point the witches tell Macbeth, who now is seeking them out for advice on how to hang on to the throne, that he won't have to worry until the forest of Birnam Wood moves towards his castle.  Macbeth doesn't think this is possible, but this prophecy, like all of the others, comes to pass.  That's the short version, but it is truly a captivating tale of murder, sorcery, ambition, politics and madness.

Shanara Gabrielle, Michael Keyloun
and David Graham Jones (Witches).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey
Every element of this production worked flawlessly together.  I was impressed with most of the cast of around 26, but most impressed with Macbeth (Timothy D. Stickney), Lady Macbeth (Caris Vujcec), Banquo (Jason Cannon), and the witches (Shanara Gabrielle, David Graham Jones and Michael Keyloun).  Their lines were delivered in a way that made it pretty easy to understand exactly what they were saying and what was going on.  Kudos to and admiration for the direction of Paul Mason Barnes and what he was able to bring out from this great cast of actors.  The set by Michael Ganio was minimal but arresting -- the stage was surrounded by these tall wooden planks that continued on to the back of the set, and there were these two chairs hung on opposing sides of the stage.  To me they represented the two chairs of the throne -- a constant presence throughout the play.  The costumes (Dorothy Marshall Englis) were also wonderful, with many characters displaying hints of red here and there telling of the strife and bloodshed this country finds itself in -- Macbeth's handsome coat being the more magnificent example once he's bestowed the title, King of Scotland.  The lighting by Kenton Yeager was low and provocative and the sound design by Rusty Wandall was unobtrusive but unnerving, with a low creepy droning anytime the witches were present or any foul deeds were taking place.  

Caris Vujcec (Lady Macbeth).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey
Here's a little fun fact that many may have heard of:  There's a well known superstition among the theatre community that this play is cursed.  Supposedly, saying the name "Macbeth" inside a theater will bring bad luck to the play and anyone performing in it.  There are a few reasons for this.  Some believe that the spells cast in the play are real spells.  According to the legend, Shakespeare got some of the witches' incantations from some for real witches and that when they saw the play, they were offended and cursed it.  Some believe that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so he would be the only one able to direct it.  One of the many remedies to reverse the curse involves the person who uttered the word having to exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, say a profanity, and then ask for permission to return inside.  Other remedies involve saying certain lines from one of Shakespeare's other plays.  Kinda sounds like fun to me, but most theatre folks take this quite seriously, which is why it's often referred to as, "the Scottish Play".

Please just go see it.  If Shakespeare scares you, man up, read a synopsis, and treat yourself to a night out.  You won't be sorry.

Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth)
and Jason Cannon (Banquo).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 6 | tickets: $15 - $70
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Kyle Acheson (Fleance), Nancy Bell (Lady Macduff/Angus), Chris Bolan (Lennox), Hillary Brainerd (Ensemble), Jason Cannon (Banquo/Caithness), Mike Curtin (young Siward/Soldier), Alexander M. Donovan (Macduff child), Greg Fink (Donalbain), Shanara Gabrielle (Witch/Murderer/Servant/Gentlewoman), Jake Golliher (Ensemble), Christopher Hickey (Ross), David Graham Jones (Witch/Poter/Seyton), Scott Joy (Ensemble), Michael Keyloun (Witch/Murderer/Servant/Doctor), Maria Knasel (Macduff child), Scears Lee IV (Ensemble), McKenna Liesman (Ensemble), Nathaniel McIntyre (Captain/Siward/Earl of Northumberland), Ben Nordstrom (Malcolm), Colton Pometta (Ensemble), Drew Redington (Macduff child), Michael James Reed (Macduff), Julia Schweizer (Macduff child), Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth), Elizabeth Teeter (Macduff child), Jerry Vogel (Duncan, King of Scotland/Menteith) and Caris Vujcec (Lady Macbeth).

Set design by Michael Ganio; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Kenton Yeager; sound design by Rusty Wandall; fight directors, Brian Peters and Shaun Sheley; stage manager, Glenn Dunn; Shannon B. Sturgis, assistant stage manager.


  1. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I thought it was pretty good but not great. I didn't think it was nearly as exciting or suspenseful as that show should be, though that did improve about halfway thru Act II. From the moment the Macbeths decide to kill Duncan, early on in the play, I want to be on the edge of my seat from the almost unbearable tension -- like watching Dexter or Sweeney Todd -- and I didn't get that this time.

    I agree that the actors made the dialogue very understandable, which is important, but too many in the cast did not really inhabit their characters; they just posed and declared a lot. Ick. I want deep, extreme, uncontrollable emotions from a Shakespeare play, and though we got that sometimes, we didn't get it throughout.

    I thought there were definitely some very strong performances (Duncan, Macduff, the witches); unfortunately, there were also some VERY weak ones, including a few of the leads...

    I much prefer Patrick Stewart's version. That director understood that this is a thriller that should move like a runaway freight train.

  2. I think the last time I saw this play was a Shakespeare Festival show. Being outside at the park can distract you (I was probably full of cheese, crackers or "biscuits", if you get the fancy kind, and wine), so I do think that for me, seeing this one inside the Rep was helpful. Also, I agree on your comment about only some of the actors being able to completely inhabit the characters. I did love it though, and am gonna try to see it again.

    And did you see the Patrick Stewart show from 2008? If so, I hate you... ;)

    Thanks for your comment, Scott.

  3. The Patrick Stewart version is on video and instant Netflix. :)

  4. Just bought it...
    Is it Springtime?
    I'm in love...

  5. For a survey of "non-traditional" casting of this play, see "Weyward Macbeth":

  6. We, on the other hand, left at intermission. De gustibus and all that, but we found it heavy handed and sluggish. Macbeth doesn't normally run nearly three hours, in my experience, unless a lot of filler had been added.