“What’s done is done,” said student actress Ariana Bonito in her portrayal of Lady Macbeth and after seeing Players’ Macbeth this weekend, it’s clear that this minimalistic version of the illustrious Shakespeare tragedy was done very well.
Tackling the Bard can be difficult for even very experienced and talented actors, so taking on the Scottish play as the season classic was a daring endeavor by Players, whose actors, directors and everything in between are all volunteers and whose budget is limited.
Yet, in this case, the low-budget feel of Players’ Macbeth was more of an advantage than a restriction. Often accompanying the flowery language of Shakespeare are the elaborate Renaissance costumes and sets, which can look tacky and dated without the proper funds and scope to pull off. Instead of choosing these lofty presentations, this version of Macbeth stripped everything down, from the set design and costuming right down to the number of actors and the running-time of the play itself and I think that this simplification made the ultimate tragedy more incisive and the production more focused throughout.
The play began with the entire cast—just five actors—entering the stage—a black backdrop with five chairs, a metal basin and little else. Music with the ambient sound of rain played as the five set the mood with simple, sharp choreography which oriented the audience for the rest of the show; not only was this version of Macbeth going to be much cleaner, crisper and simpler in appearance than other versions, but in watching the tragedy, the audience was going to be transported into the world of the mystic, where witches forecast the fates of men and imaginary daggers materialize before one’s very eyes. This dance set the mood for the remainder of the play very well and transitioned right into the first official scene, with the three weïrd sisters taking center stage.
From there, the story of how Macbeth gained and lost the throne began to unfold. Here, the minimalist take on Macbeth really started to prove its merit. The script of the play was cut down in several places, eliminating some of the lengthier passages that are not as integral to the main plot of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s efforts to secure rule. Additionally, there were no scene changes, special effects, changes in lighting and no intermission. With actors dressed in street wear and a neutral color palette, all of the attention was taken away from the material quality of the play and placed directly on the immaterial: the words and emotions of Shakespeare’s characters.
With such a bare-bones approach, both actors and the audience could really delve deeply into the psychology of the characters, especially central players Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, although other characters, notably Macduff, also showcased their complexities through the talent of the actors. At first, I was skeptical that such a small cast could pull off a show with so many different parts, but director Aryana Sedarati and assistant director Michael Sickles ensured that the actors in Macbeth made up a powerhouse cast. Every actor excelled in his or her roles. With more elaborate props and costumes and interruptions for scene changes and an intermission, I don’t think that this performance would have been as successful, since all these factors would have distracted from the sheer energy and talent of those on the stage, who needed only themselves to offer a captivating take on Macbeth.
The minimalism of the play also required actors to create their own special effects, which I think were more successful than flashier technological displays, which can come off as campy or histrionic when not executed well. Some of the most notable moments of powerful effects created by the actors themselves were the staging and body language of Lady Macbeth’s famous “unsex me here” monologue and the amazing physical and verbal performance of Andrew Guarisco as Macbeth when the three witches delivered the prophecy that “No man of woman born can harm Macbeth” through the king’s own lips.
Johnny Sellino, Alanna Monte and Meg Foley all faced the challenge of taking on multiple roles of varying characters with different personalities, sometimes switching within seconds from a character whose major purpose in the play is comic relief to a mourning parent to a serious soldier to an eerie witch. These transitions, assisted by minimal costume changes, were undergone very well and showed the range of these three actors, who switched seamlessly from role to role and still made these more minor players their own.
Another interesting aspect of the play was that the actors and directors sat down in an open forum with the audience after the play was over, fielding questions from the audience about everything from make-up design to diction. I thought this was a really great addition to the play, as it gave viewers an inside look into how the production was made and coincided with the more realistic approach to a highly supernatural play.
Even though this more raw and realistic portrayal of Macbeth tells the story of the thane of Glamis in no time flat, the plot is still complicated and with actors portraying many different characters within just a few minutes, it can be very hard to follow for someone who has never read Macbeth or who needs a refresher course in the play’s plot. I wish there had been a synopsis for those less familiar with who was who and what exactly was going on. Yet, I felt that most of the time, the actors’ tone would have been able to help any confused spectators find their place despite the complicated language and plot’s layers of political turmoil.
Macbeth is one of Players’ best productions yet, proving that a lower budget and smaller performance space cannot hold the organization back from contending with larger theatrical groups on campus, including the Department of Theater and Dance. The strong, smart and striking performances of all five actors as well as the fascinating and fitting directorial decisions for this production of Macbeth prove that Players can hold their own, produce really spectacular theater and convert one of the foulest tales in Elizabethan theater into something truly fair.