Truth and Consequences: Macbeth at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival
Traveling to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, it is easy to get swept up in the beauty of rolling hills and pastoral charm as far as the eye can see. Once you arrive however, the festival’s latest offering, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, will have you swept up in a whole new fashion. As Banquo warns Macbeth early in the action, “The instruments of darkness tell us truths…” PSF’s shadowy and sinister interpretation of this Scottish tale haunts and delights in equal measure.
Now in their 23rd season, and celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival continues its tradition of visually stunning work with the heart and soul to gratify a summer night spent at the theatre. Couched in Center Valley, of all places, the Festival’s home campus of DeSales University boasts foliage so green it makes your eyes ache and sunsets so extraordinary you’ll never want to venture inside. But what’s inside is not to be missed, and you can trust that the worlds created in there are even more stunning.
Director and Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy boils down a centuries-old tale of ambition into a sleek and sumptuous treat. A portrait in charcoal and pitch (with the occasional dash of blood, of course), Mulcahy’s Macbeth tricks the senses into expecting the unexpected at every turn. Bob Phillips’ set gives a stark, industrial feel to the proceedings complete with chain link panels and an eerie floor grate full of surprises. Lighting designer Thom Weaver finds every inch of the psychological drama with his striking visuals as Matt Given’s sound design combines thumping drums, buzzing guitars, and a touch of the supernatural that leaves you looking over your shoulder all night. Completing the picture are Lisa Zinni’s costumes, blending a touch of classical beauty with a healthy dose of runway attitude, giving Scotland a look that is anything but ordinary.
Susan Riley Stevens, as Lady Macbeth, wears Zinni’s designs with so much style, she may as well have been painted that way. Fortunately, the work of art resonates far below the surface. Every moment with Stevens is electric as she nudges, prods, and coerces her partner in crime with all the grace of a woman you would gladly follow through the gates of hell. Every sweeping gesture and fragile cry echoes all the more poignantly as we watch her faculties crumble under the weight of her guilt. Don’t be surprised if you hear the audience exhale as she exits, they’ve been holding their breath the whole time she was onstage. And for every moment where Stevens steals your breath away, Ian Bedford as Macbeth himself fills the stage with a booming command that rattles every last rafter. Bedford’s imposing frame and thunderous presence, however, never detract from the deeper moments in his performance. His careful calculations intimidate, his quiet insecurities haunt, and his gory regrets send a welcomed chill down the spine; all while wearing the hell out of a leather vest. As a royal couple, Bedford and Stevens bring all the heat, muscle, and dignity one could hope for.
The key ingredient to the bloody recipe, however, is the wicked coterie played collectively by Deanna Gibson, Suzanne O’Donnell, and Eleanor Handley. Mulcahy’s version of Macbeth’s witches is a sexy, shape-shifting trio whose unnatural presence is as haunting as their unpredictability. Each playing multiple roles throughout, their sinister advice is clouded only by their drop-dead appeal. From leather boots to irresistibly slinky dresses to a pair of dark shades for each, these weird sisters change in the blink of an eye, growing more attractive and unavoidable as Macbeth’s fates come to fruition.
Act Two belongs to Perry Ojeda, a chiseled Macduff who brings charm, grief and a vengeful power to the equation. Joining the ranks of booted, zipper-clad, battling men in black, Ojeda’s soft strength stands out among the ranks. But if handsome men in gorgeous clothes wielding deadly weapons is at all your “thing”, the Macbeth cast will not disappoint. From victorious embraces to passionate battle cries, the Macbeth men wheel and deal with murderous consequences. Completing a superb cast with the sincerity, urgency, and the command of language this story demands are Anthony Lawton (Banquo), Trent Fucci (Rosse), and Jacob Dresch (Malcolm) along with a large and capable ensemble of players.
Whether it’s plotting, hunting or haunting, PSF’s Macbeth is a dark and satisfying morsel that will leave you carefully checking around each corner. And if you’re game for one more pleasant surprise, stick around to see Lend Me a Tenor, running in repertory with Macbeth. The stage, costumes, and cast skillfully switch over from the powers of darkness to a bright and bubbly romp that will leave your sides aching from laughter. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth runs through August 3rd in repertory with Lend Me a Tenor at the Labuda Center for Performing Arts on the campus of DeSales University in Center Valley, PA. Tickets are available at www.pashakespeare.org and by contacting the Box Office at 610.282.WILL