THEATER REVIEW: “Macbeth” @ Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Imagine a production of Macbeth without the witches. No “When shall we three meet again?” No “Double, double toil and trouble: Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble.” No cauldron for that matter; no murderers to kill Banquo or Macduff’s family — only blood magically spurting from their chests. These are some of the many alterations imposed on the text of Macbeth now playing at Shakespeare & Company in their two-hour version of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy.
Under the direction of Melia Bensussen in her debut with the company, lines and scenes have been cut, added, rearranged and with a small cast of only nine named actors supplemented by members of the ensemble, several roles have been doubled, sometimes leading to difficulty identifying the characters. This especially true in the case of the female Banquo (Ella Loudon), fresh from her fine work as a male character in last year’s Cymbeline.
Bensussen explains in a Director’s Note that although an Elizabethan audience would regard witches as “demonic agents,” today Wicca beliefs are celebrated in a positive way, so we would not be frightened of them. As a substitute, there is one actress (uncredited), all in white, who prowls around observing the action, calling forth thunder and rain (yes, there literally is rain on the set) with a gesture, and speaking a few artificially amplified (otherworldly) predictions. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in lieu of witches, Bensussen appeals to incorporeal, psychological terror. Costumes (by Olivera Gajic) are set in Poe’s time — late nineteenth century. Bensussen’s concept is for Macbeth to confront the audience, forcing us to see the results of his (and our) unbridled imagination, leading him (and perhaps even us) into darker and more evil deeds — “that’s the ghost story of Macbeth this summer.”