By Anne Stichter
Those of you who read my blog post about the similarity of the Wells-Metz in its current set up to the Globe Theater in London will remember my unnatural enthusiasm, and it remains my favorite thing about this production. Upon entering the theater, the senses of sight and sound are met with the impression a forest clearing in the Fall, surrounded on three sides by tall structures that create the feeling of sitting at the bottom of a cauldron: sense of intriguing doom. Thank you, Bridgette Dreher, for a beautiful design.
The first things that strike the eye are the leaves, the torn cloth hanging from above, and the two enormous wooden rings directly above the stage. But as I settled into my seat and took in the created environment, I noticed the three tall arched windows projected above the seats in front of me. They were so subtle, yet so impactful, projecting a hope of grandeur on a bleak landscape, so reminiscent of Macbeth’s own ambition. Over the course of the production, the lighting ranged from being subtle and effective, to clear and well-chosen, to finally being a character on-stage itself (spoilers!). It has been said that the mark of good lighting is that you don’t notice it: not so in IU’s Macbeth. It is a pleasure to notice Matthew Benton Wofford’s choices.
When I first read that the setting of this production was ‘the distant present’, I was confused. Production photos I had seen featured corsets, swords, armor: none of which seemed particularly ‘present’. But as each character appeared in full costume, it was wonderful to observe the blend of periods. Banquo wore cargo pants and bore a sword; Malcolm wore both a kilt and a sports jacket. The concept behind Kelsey Nichols’ design drew the audience into the past and the future at the same time, creating a setting that belonged in an entirely new realm, where all bets and expectations were off. Anything could happen.
Specifically, Lady M’s Gothic-Elizabethan gown
The costumes were truly so fantastic that I must use two of my points to speak of them and draw special attention to Lady Macbeth’s gown. I had heard from production staff that she would be wearing a huge gown during the production, and I wondered how that would affect Abby Lee’s mobility. My questions were answered when she appeared. Lady Macbeth’s gown blends the gothic movement with the fashion of Elizabethan monarchs, featuring a full-bodied skirt over which hung black sheer material that floated down in the shape of full ballgown. The effect was created and twisted to new purpose and greater utility. All that to say, Lady Macbeth looked awesome.
Totally unified production concept
As a student of technical theater at undergrad, it was especially a pleasure in all the above to see director David Koté’s totally unified production concept. I could see the hours of meeting and coordination that I’m sure took place, creating a style through each of the technologies that drew them all together into one unified design. Brava! The attack on Macduff’s castle – learning something new about what I thought I knew.
Heartbreaking as it is, this scene was one of my favorites due in great part to Jessica Schroeder’s portrayal of Lady Macduff and Adam McLean’s fight choreography. I had barely thought of Lady Macduff in the past; she appears in one scene, and then we hear that she died. But in this version of that one scene I recognized for the first time one of the instances in which Shakespeare has written words of great power about the nature of our life on earth and given them to a minor character in a critical moment. Jessica Schroeder captures all the poignancy of those seven lines in particular, but also of the whole scene as well, to great effect, setting the tone for the next heartbreak the audience experiences as Adam McLean’s visceral choreography makes us feel the horror of the Macduffs’ fate. It is a powerful thing when a production can teach someone to see a well-known story anew, and I valued experiencing that in this show.
The banquet scene
This is a scene that skillfully blends horror with comedy. While faced with the horrors of a gore-y ghost, we also experience a man and a couple falling apart in moments of social comedy whose dread implications are nonetheless felt. It was a very well-executed scene, with the ensemble on stage moving effectively from laughter to dread and effectively illustrating the Bard’s words.
The witches of Macbeth offer great freedom to the creative team behind each production of the play, and I greatly enjoyed the choices in this version. Annie Quigley, Kristen Alesia, and Brianna Milan are simultaneously strange, frightening, beautiful, and fierce; they are enigmas wrapped in face paint, layered clothing, and Shakespeare’s mysterious words. I loved the differing characters of each witch, adding levels of confusion and different tactics to their joined attempt to mislead Macbeth.
The perfectly illustrated Porter scene
It is a belief of mine that – because Shakespeare’s language is inaccessible to most people today – the text in Shakespeare’s plays must be illustrated. This means it should be acted out, suiting the action to the word, and the word to the action, so that the hearer can understand it even if the words themselves are unclear. Though the cast as a whole succeeded in communicating the intricacies of the story through the potential barrier of the language, the best instance of illustrated Shakespeare was Chris J. Handley’s rendition of the Porter’s scene. The way in which each line was acted out, from the farmer hanging himself to the things which liquor most provokes, made it easy to understand what was being said, see the relationship of the Porter to the characters with whom he interacts, and gave the audience permission and reason to laugh in the middle of a dark play: all of this exactly as, I believe, the Bard intended it to be.