by Jeff Grygny
On a tree-shaded lawn, families and friends are claiming their little domains with lawn chairs and blankets. Some young actors are leading a group of smaller kids in some vigorous activity, including enthusiastically chanting “double double toil and trouble!” Remembering the old theater superstition of never quoting Macbeth n a theater, I’m glad we’re outside, but I knock on a tree trunk just in case. Vendors under canopies sell hot dogs and snacks. If it’s Monday, this must be Havenwoods State Park, and Summit Player’s touring production of the infamous “Scottish Play.”
With the cheeky motto “Junk in your trunk, Shakespeare in ours,” Summit Players have honed their mission—bringing fast-paced, family-friendly summer Shakespeare to Wisconsin public parks— to a fine art. They know what works, and they do it very well. It seems odd at first that the players are wearing shorts and sneakers under their tabards and crowns, but this is Shakespeare with training wheels: art and practicality are inseparable. The actors shout to be heard outside: they don’t use electronic amplification, just like actors in the olde days. With weather and a hundred other distractions to contend with they have to distill their characters down to essences.
As adapted and directed by Maureen Kilmurry, the weird sisters are bouncier than you might expect—but they don’t scare the little ones. The toddlers get a little restless during the interludes about politics and morality. And yet they see the actual play, edited down to a brisk 75 minutes, with it’s rhythms and emotions intact. Everyone else can easily appreciate the themes of ambition, corruption, conspiracy, regret, and just retribution, and apply it to our times, just as Jacobean audiences would in the aftermath of the infamous gunpowder plot.
Monday’s performance gave the oft-unsung understudies a chance to challenge the lead roles. Dylan Thomas played the title role as a small-minded, wavering schemer; quite insecure, as tyrants tend to be. As Lady M, Vivian Romano brought a sense of vulnerability with a hidden edge of steel. In the regular cast, Matthew Torkilsen lends a fine comic aptitude to the role of the drunken porter, while Kaylene Howard as Lady Macduff gives us the most rounded character, with intelligence, tenderness, and pathos. In his dual roles as King Duncan and Macduff, George Lorimer delivers dignity and honesty, and like the other players, the dynamic Caroline Norton deftly draws all of them distinctly. The swordplay, choreographed by Chris Elst with skimpy little daggers, provides audience-safe action, if not spectacle.
The midnight hues and existential poetry of Macbeth don’t readily lend themselves to summer in the park. But Summit Player’s production doesn’t pull it’s punches where it counts: the grown-ups can appreciate the nuances of the play while the kids won’t be bored out of their minds. Both will come away pretty happy, even if they sense there might me more to this Shakespeare stuff. Training wheels might be just the right thing.
Summit Players present
by William Shakespeare
playing through August 19
for a complete list of remaining performances, go to: