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MacBeth' gets a modern makeover

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REVIEW

An electric guitar sends tangible vibrations through the audience. Primitive drums throb with murderous intent. The performers don outfits reminiscent of the Armageddon.

This is no rock concert. This is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” as envisioned by Director John Hadden and the Theater Company of Hubbard Hall.

At the production’s open rehearsal on March 7, the air trembled with expectation. “Macbeth,” though interspersed with murder and necromancy, is no mere political/supernatural thriller. The play delves deeply into the human psyche, bringing out subconscious layers in its characters – some disturbing, others delightful.

Gino Costabile plays Macbeth with a perfectly embattled conscience that gleams through in his monologues. Macbeth is a man of ambition, who takes note of three witches’ enigmatic prophecies and determines to make his aspirations a reality. His strong-willed wife (Betsy Holt) prods him on to the horrific murder of King Duncan (one of dexterous Christine Decker’s many male roles in the play). Foul deed follows foul deed, until the multiplicity of murders becomes established fact.

Friends and cousins — women and children — none are safe from Macbeth’s bloodied hands.

In the midst of heinous crime and decreasing sanity, the excellent Doug Ryan inserts himself as unexpected comic relief. He takes the form of an intoxicated porter — his witty and yet senseless monologue replete with overstated gesture and echoing facial expressions. Ryan reinvents himself later as a simple, prattling child.

Lady Macbeth (played with a terrifying veiled menace by Betsy Holt) unravels as the play develops. She first appears as an ambitious, clever noblewoman, but her sanity collapses as her guilt devours her -- mimicked by her increasingly bedraggled hair and costume.

Also notable is Scott Renzo, carrying off his roles (as the staunch Ross; a befuddled servant; and an impenetrable murderer) with the ease of the sword that swings by his side.

Few characters are as morbidly spellbinding as the three weird sisters (played with sorcerous concentration by Catherine Seeley, Myka Plunkett and Colleen Lovett), who transform the stage into a witching heath with their enchantments.

Out of necessity, most of the 10 actors have many roles — due to the play’s 32 characters. That the actors are able, under the brief blackout of a scene change, to slip out of one character and into another, is a feat in itself.

Regular attendees of Hubbard Hall productions may be surprised to walk to their seats across an expansive stage. Once again, Hubbard Hall has proven its creativity in stage design (the brainchild here of John Hadden, Benjie White and Erin Ouelette). The play’s epic-quality thrusts the action off the hall’s intimate proscenium stage -- journeying from one side of the room to the other -- crossing the creaky floorboards and continuing up a specially constructed staircase (adorned with a bleak scheme of shadowy fabric, torn netting and ragged burlap).

Paralleling the grim set and grisly storyline are the costumes, designed by Ouelette, who transfers the popular post-apocalyptic look from mainstream entertainment to “Macbeth.” Ragged coveralls, torn jeans, incongruously patched jackets, military coats and dilapidated gowns are atypical choices that work.

This production’s lighting and technical direction credits go to White (executive director for Hubbard Hall). A notable harsh red light is used several times throughout the play to create a foreshadowing of blood to be spilled — or to give a sinister supernatural feel to beings not of this world. Actor Reilly Hadden becomes an unredressed Banquo from beyond the grave -- frozen in the bloody light, like a hell-hound in the headlights.

“Macbeth” is approximately 400 years old. Yet, with the electrifying music, post-apocalyptic costuming, immersive set and stage experience, it has an air of the modern. See “Macbeth” and immerse yourself in the horror, as the Theater Company of Hubbard Hall explores the inmost depths of the human conscience.

If you go

“MacBeth” runs through March 24 at Hubbard Hall, 25 E. Main St. in Cambridge. Tickets, which are $25, are available at www.hubbardhall.org or by phone at 677-2495.

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