Modern ‘Macbeth’ puts the drama at home
Walking into the Laurie Theater on Saturday night, I could not help but feel as if I had entered a completely different space.
The theater had been transformed into a modern day kitchen — complete with a sink, kitchen island, cabinets stocked to the brim with food and drink, mostly resembling alcohol, and a refrigerator. The right of the stage resembled a traditional entryway into a house, complete with a key-bowl, a coat rack and even a working answering machine.
This was the set of director Zoë Golub-Sass’s ’16 production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
“Macbeth” is about the titular soldier and his friend Banquo who meet three strange witches who prophesize that Macbeth will eventually be king. The play follows Macbeth and his wife’s descent into madness as they try to make the prophecy come true.
Golub-Sass took the traditional regal setting of “Macbeth” and transformed it into a modern domestic drama. In her director’s notes, Golub-Sass writes that what drives the Macbeths to take the throne is their “absence of children/heir.” Therefore, Golub-Sass found that to make these seemingly complex issues more relatable it was appropriate to place Shakespeare’s seemingly domestic drama into a physical modern day home.
One would never think to see Lady Macbeth (Caley Chase ’16) in jeans. In fact, in the scene after Macbeth (Raphael Stigliano ’18) first encounters the witches and hears his prophecy, he delivers his first monologue to Lady Macbeth not in person but through an answering machine.
The dining room was set up so that while dinner parties were happening, the characters could retreat to the kitchen and discuss other pressing matters. At the back of the stage, a room was set up to look like a living space. However, this was the area where all the characters who died during the show went to. This juxtaposition was most notably evident in the scene where Macbeth has a vision of Banquo at his dinner party.
Instead of leaving it up to the audience to see Macbeth’s madness, Ben Astrachan ’19, who played Banquo, sat in an empty seat at the table and started drinking along with the rest of the party. After the scene he retreated back to the “other world” making the audience feel just as spooked.
The attention to detail was remarkably evident in the scenery, and it strengthened emotional components of the drama. Golub-Sass made the Macduff family seem incredibly realistic. When Lady Macduff (Yaznil Baez ’16) expresses her frustration about the situation in the kingdom, she still manages to do her duties as a mother, such as sending her youngest child to a time out.
Young Macduff (Danielle Frankel ’17) started off Act II as if he were coming home from school and taking out his notebook to do his homework, only to be bothered by his little sister, Youngest Macduff, who was played by third grader Fiona Hyland, daughter of Senior Academic Administrator in the Theater Arts Department Alicia Hyland. When the three murderers come into the Macduff home and violently slaughter the family, the combat and blood effects were incredibly realistic. The entire audience felt an overwhelming sense of grief as this realistic family was slaughtered in front of the audience’s very eyes.
Three of the standouts were the three Witches, played by Mira Kessler ’16, Kylie Underwood ’19 and Talia Bornstein ’19.
The witches’ roles were transformed from enchantresses to NICU nurses who performed their incantations to an empty baby carriage.
The witches also played the traditionally male role of the Porter, the town drunk who adds comic relief. Out of all the other supporting characters in the show, Matt Hoisch’s ’19 portrayal of Malcolm stood out with his passionate monologues. The realistic grief, particularly in the scene when he finds out that his father Duncan has been killed, that Hoisch brought to the production and the shift of his grief into spite for Macbeth were remarkable to watch.
The actors interacted with the audiences in the front rows and played out their monologues to each audience member. Performing in a “theater in the round”-type setting is difficult, and Stigliano and Chase performed their roles with ease, thanks in part to the brilliant staging by Golub-Sass.
The use of space and the attention to detail added extra meaning to a show written and set in another era.
By placing the show into a modern context, the audience was able to connect to the old language in a way in which a 2015 theater-going individual would better understand it. It just goes to show that in both Shakespeare’s time and in 2015, the role of family relationships is as complicated and timeless.