Brutal Shakespeare: “Macbeth”

photo by Mahdi Gransberry

by Jeff Grygny

In the climactic fight scene of Voices Found Repertory’s fast-moving Macbeth, the title character is huddling behind his plywood shield while his enemy ferociously hammers it with his sword, the force causing him to drop the shield (a move familiar to anyone who’s played a sword-based computer game). It’s a dynamic metaphor for the moment when the murderous king realizes that his overweening confidence was based on equivocal prophesies. It also says a lot about director Alec Lachman’s intentions. This is a Macbeth for the generation of digital entertainment, when a moment of tedium can be remedied by a single click. The show surges relentlessly forward in episodes like video clips, with tightly-choreographed scene changes. There’s no time to be bored, and it’s always clear what’s going on. Lachman has cut the text to the bone: the Thane of Fife plots his way to power, a rebellion is mounted, and the tyrant is defeated in a brisk 90 minutes—intermission included. It could keep the most attention-challenged viewer entertained, with a solid concept and a cast that, if not totally in command of Shakespearean diction, displays the commitment and physical energy needed to bring the story to life.

The post-apocalyptic setting is a standard trope now, especially in YA culture; maybe it’s the best representation of civilization’s spiritual landscape under global capitalism: a brutal struggle to make the most of the ruined remains of luckier, if foolish, forebears. This blasted Scotland is economically represented by junk-plastered walls ornamented with radiation symbols, and graffitied occult glyphs and slogans like “Blood will have blood.” Even the royalty have mismatched furniture, and drink their toasts from antique tin cans. It’s a fair match for the lawless violence of early medieval times, and we accept it without question. Interestingly, the weird sisters are explained in a program note as a Bacchae-like “Cult of Hecate,” who imbibe hallucinogens and seek to destabilize the warlord’s rule. Their rituals incorporate vivid movement and eerie choral speaking. The witches seem to relish their anarchic roles, whipping through the cauldron scene with feverish urgency.

photo by Mahdi Gransberry

Michael Cienfuegos-Baca brings his burly physique and formidable beard to the lead role, wavering between naked ambition and pusillanimous doubt; he could be any one of history’s strongmen. He’s at his best when showing us Macbeth’s bestial side, his eyes becoming black holes into the soul of a predator.  As Lady M, Alexis Furseth is all chill poise, until she starts chewing the scenery (understandable. perhaps, for a character whose historical model was named “Gruoch.”) Together, they capture the dynamic of the beauty and the beast who scale their way to the top (not like anyone we know in the White House, definitely).

Brittany Ann Meister, as the sturdy Banquo and also as Lady MacDuff, seems alone resistant to the madness of the times. And in the normally characterless role of Lennox, Hannah Kubiak shows great spirit and intelligence. It would be wonderful to see these fine actresses play some of Shakespeare’s delightful heroines, like Rosalind, Viola, or Portia. In a play full of larger-than life emotions, it’s nice to see Thom Cauley’s authentic grief at MacDuff’s loss of his family. It’s also nice to see these young artists hit notes that often escape other actors, such as when Sara Zapiain’s drunken doorkeeper uses her line “Pray you remember the Porter” to solicit a tip; or Lady M’s singsong “The Thane of Fife had a Wife.” Such moments show the thought and care they put into their interpretations.

photo by Mahdi Gransberry

As usual, Voices Found Repertory has taken a time-worn classic and made it their own. Purists might wince at how they run over Shakespeare’s verse in combat boots, but what the show lacks in poetry, it gains in narrative pace and excitement. The brutal world they portray can’t afford the luxury of poetry.

Voices Found Repertory presents


playing March 30 and 31