'Macbeth' is a nightmare vividly brought to life

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By Doug Deuchler

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Oak Park Festival Theatre's energetic new production of Shakespeare's Macbeth is set in medieval Scotland, yet we can relate to the damaging effects of both excessive pride and ruthless political ambition. This is one of the Bard's darker plays, yet its themes of greed and betrayal are vivid, mesmerizing and still relevant. The idea of gaining power consumes the fearless Macbeth, as well as his wife, causing him to commit unthinkable acts to gain the Scottish throne.

 The production, directed by Barbara Zahora, is stunningly well-crafted, a swift-moving epic featuring lots of battling and bloodshed. 

 The show also maintains the crucial supernatural elements of what has traditionally been called "The Scottish play." The trio of witches, garbed in creepy goth-looking attire and body paint, heighten the nightmarish aspects of the production. The witches here are not three sisters; one of them is male. They are chillingly portrayed by Ellysse Dawson, Mark Lancaster, and Savanna Rae. The "weird ones" deliver a prophecy to Macbeth that someday he will become king. 

 Key characters are well-played but the entire company is a tightly-functioning ensemble. A number of performers play multiple roles.

 Matthew Fahey wholly embodies the title role, though he does not show as much fire and passion as in some interpretations. During the intermission I was told by someone who knew him in high school that Fahey lived in the 1920s-era apartment building just west of Austin Gardens, facing into the park (now a condo building called The Sanctuary) so undoubtedly he was aware of Oak Park Festival Theatre's productions way back then.

 But Fahey's Macbeth is no weak-willed puppet pushed along by his driven wife, played by Melanie Keller. His hubris/pride is his dominant character trait. So it does not take much to push the power-hungry warrior into action.

 Fahey and Keller display genuine chemistry. Their first scene together reveals the scheming couple as sexually magnetic.

 Lady Macbeth, one of the most powerful female characters in English literature, taunts her husband into action. But her hardening cruelty leads her to derangement. Their terrible deed haunts the pair, leaving their hands forever stained. Keller's mad scene with her guilt-ridden "Out, damned spot!" soliloquy is especially gripping.

 Fahey's Macbeth seems to be in a dreamlike state as he delivers his lamentation about life being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

 Jack Hickey, Oak Park Festival Theatre's artistic director plays Duncan, the beloved but deposed King of Scotland, and also a comic relief porter. Jhenai Mootz is both Lady Macduff and Hecate, goddess of magic and witchcraft. Christopher W. Jones is electrifying as Macduff. 

 Bryan Wakefield is doomed Banquo, Macbeth's longtime friend, and Matt Gall is Malcolm, murdered Duncan's son.

 The assistant director is Tony Dobrowolski. Leigh Anne Barrett is the stage manager.

 The stone-like set, which depicts a variety of settings, was designed by Michael Lasswell. George Zahora created the sound, which features everything from scary birds, clashing swords, thunderstorms, hysterical laughter, and ominous, unsettling voices. Such sounds effectively punctuates the action.

 No individual is credited in the program with make-up design but some really exceptional work is on display.

 The violence, such a pivotal part of this play, has been designed by R&D Choreography, which features the work of Victor Bayona and Richard Gilbert. Jaq Siefert (who also plays Ross) is the Fight Captain. The results are thrilling.

 At just under three hours with one intermission, some slight pruning of Shakespeare's shortest tragedy might have been advantageous. But this solid production with its gritty, finely executed fight scenes and superb acting is well worth an evening in the lovely confines of Austin Gardens. 

Macbeth is a nightmare vividly brought to life, illustrating the tragic consequences of all-consuming ambition in a self-centered leader. This production offers lots to think about. 

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Robert Zeh  

Posted: June 27th, 2017 9:45 PM

We went with our children, and everyone from our 6 year old to our 13 year old enjoyed the play. There was enough sword fighting that our 6 year old liked it because "it was just like medieval times".

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: June 21st, 2017 10:22 AM

Doug has captured the essence of this outstanding production.

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