REVIEW WRITTEN BY ELLEN WILSON DILKS
For Digital First Media
Villanova Theatre continues their current season with a production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which dramatizes the psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Always a timely piece, the production is directed by James J. Christy and runs on the Vasey stage thru Nov. 22. Completed in 1606, “Macbeth” tells the tale of a Scottish general driven to murdering the reigning king and usurping his throne—whether by his own ambition or that of his wife is a question that has challenged theatre artists for centuries.
After an opening enactment of a battle, the “Weird Sisters” appear (Rebecca Jane Cureton, Elise D’Avella and Stephen Tornetta), making their predictions of kingship to Macbeth (Kyle Fennie) and Banquo (Dan Cullen), and the tragic events of the play are set in motion. Spurred on by Lady Macbeth (Meg Trelease), Macbeth murders King Duncan (John K. Baxter). Fearing for their own lives Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain (Rebecca Jane Cureton, Luke Hensley) flee Scotland, allowing Macbeth to cast suspicion on them and take the throne.
Aware of the witches’ prediction that Banquo’s heirs would rule the land for generations, Macbeth arranges to have his former friend murdered, feeling it’s the only way to protect his position. Nevertheless, the guilt piles upon him and he startles the court during a banquet with his hallucinations of Banquo. After another visit with the witches, Lennox (Chris Monaco) informs his king Macduff (Elizabeth Meisenzahl) has fled to England. Macbeth takes over Macduff’s castle, killing his wife (Elise D’Avella) and son (Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez). The body count keeps climbing and the Macbeth’s paranoia increases, ending with Lady Macbeth’s suicide and Macbeth’s death at the hands of Macduff. Malcolm is crowned and peace returns to the kingdom.
The ensemble of players is generally strong (not previously mentioned: Patrick McAndrew, Aliz Rosenfeld and Jess Otterbine); they understand the text—which often isn’t the case with younger actors. Christy gave them many moments to shine brightly; but, things were all over the map technically, unusual for Christy. The vaudevillian shtick of the Porters (yes, plural) was fun and well performed, the otherworldliness of the witches’ altered voices intrigued and the murder of Macduff’s family was nicely done. However, it was hard to tell a time frame. The army’s uniforms looked very Viet Nam era, while the courtiers’ ensembles were early 1900s; the set was 1950s industrial “brutalism” style, yet the soundscape was very techno. I am by no means a Shakespeare “purist,” but a production needs a clear overriding vision/context for the viewer to relate with in order to feel invested in the events unfolding before them.
The complexities of the characters in Macbeth can fascinate audiences—obviously, it’s stayed relevant for almost 500 years. It is a gripping story, especially during election years. Adding to the fascination is that Shakespeare’s text is based on tales found in Hollingshed’s Chronicals, which detailed the history of the British Isles. This production has many plusses—Kyle Fennie is quite compelling as Macbeth. Take the time to head to Villanova to see their “Macbeth” and let me know your thoughts.