"Something wicked this way comes..."
A Review by Trish Morgan
There are times when you walk into a nearly-empty theatre, 20 minutes before the theatre fills and actors take the stage, and you are eager with quiet anticipation for what you are about to see. You know the direction will be spot-on, you know the perfect actors were cast in the roles, and you now see the creative mind of the theatre's set designer displayed and lighted for all to visit and marvel at his genius. EVERYTHING will come to life before your very eyes.
THIS is how I feel every single time I find myself at Cumberland Theatre (CT). I knew the next two hours would draw me into William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" like has never been done since my senior year at Bruce High School when Mrs. Dye captivated her students with one of Shakespeare's most dramatic stories. I wanted this performance to be the "be all end all" - as I had heard that the theatre was making this production its own.
Set in the drug-trafficking world of the 1990's, as opposed to the early 15th century when the story was written, the main theme of "Macbeth is the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints. It finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters.
Macbeth (played magnificently by Seth Thompson) is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment, and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play, he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, deliciously portrayed by Kimberli Rowley, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts.
One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murder’s aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition—helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches.
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frightening female characters. When we first see her, she is already plotting Duncan’s murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. At one point, she wishes that she were not a woman so that she could do it herself.
Thompson and Rowley were fabulous in these roles. Their chemistry is undeniable, and they both play off one another's evil-doing and master manipulations to make this updated tragedy work. Thompson's madness build and builds throughout the scenes, and Rowley's "out out damn spot" was haunting and worth every scare she conjured with the reality of what she had done. "Raw, edgy and vulnerable" one fan stated after she saw the weekend performance, and I concur wholeheartedly.
There are serious themes throughout the play, so it is mostly suggested for adults. There is murder and mayhem, madness, gunfire and other violence - you will find yourself shocked and startled by it all.
As for this cast of sixteen, it is challenging at best to single out particular actors for their intense study of Shakespeare's words and thoughts. Each and every one mastered the difficult period piece and language that we no longer speak in our usual tongue. There are thee's and thou's as spoken in the early 1600's, but the audience soon understands the mood and the story as it unravels.
Witches One, Two and Three (Mark Worth, Alexandra Shephard and Ebony Gebbes), keep the storytelling transitions with their wicked banter and magical spells and potions. I found their character performances mesmerizing, especially Alexandra's delightfully-evil smiles, hisses and laughter. The witches' character development was well thought out and carried through.
Joe Staton, a British actor, director and producer based in New York City, took on the role of Banquo. His vast portfolio of theatre experience gave him that much-needed edge to make his presence known on stage. In fact, he tends to own every scene he is in. This was his first time on stage at CT, and I hope he will find it in his busy schedule to grace us here again in the near future. Bravo, Joe.
Another noted performer included John DeFilippo, who is quite the experienced Shakespearean actor and new to CT. It seemed he had much dialog to learn in the script, and nary was there a place he strayed from that script. His excellence in the theatre shined on stage.
Also worthy of a mention is Sean Besecker (Macduff). On stage, the mastery of his craft is evident in all that he does - whether it is building his character, projecting his voice, delivering his lines or fighting with such realism you can hardly believe every move is planned and choreographed. He certainly gave Macbeth his all as they fought for vengeance.
Hats off to the director of this production. Seriously. To take a tragedy written by someone like Shakespeare, put your own vision into it, and bring such innovation and creativity...just wow. And the fight scenes - with the choreography, the violence, the reality - A1. The work it took to pull all of this together, with cast members perfecting challenging dialog, director Sam Little excelled. I trust he knows his direction was worth all of that blood, sweat and tears.
Other actors and their roles were: Charlie Meeks (Duncan/Siward); Jace Courrier (Fleance/Young Siward) - great job on your death scene, young fella! Also, there were: Reed Lancaster (Ross); Jacob Waeyaert (Angus); Katelyn Shreiner (Seyton/Lady Macduff); Oliver Nau (Macduff's Son); Michael Reid (Sergeant/Murderer); Juan Danner (Doctor/Murderer).
Production staff, other than those mentioned above, were Marty Jellison (stage manager); Hayden Kline (assistant stage manager); Jennifer Clark (costume design); Xander Mulder (lighting design); Trevor McCabe (props master and board operator); Ebony Gennes (fight captain); Elizabeth Mudge (wardrobe assistant).
There are so many reasons to see this play this final weekend. So many. The set and ambiance, the costumes, the skilled lighting and board operations, seasoned actors - some new faces and some of our favorites - comfortable seating, art gallery, specialty drinks and Shakespeare. Final shows will be this Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Performances are made possible by generous sponsorship from Mary Splain Shrout, with additional funding by Wendy Snow Walker.
For reservations, call (301) 759-4990, or visit buy tickets online at www.cumberlandtheatre.com.
Photos by Perk Hull Design.