by FRANCES EDSTROM
It was a pleasure to watch “Macbeth,” directed by Paul Barnes, one of the founding directors of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF), on GRSF’s opening night.
Barnes always resists the urge to try to improve upon Shakespeare’s work by torturing a modern social or political “lesson” out of it, but rather lets the play speak for itself through its finely drawn characters and sublime poetry.
“Macbeth” certainly has a lot to say to contemporary audiences in a very real way.
We see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth actually be consumed by their insatiable appetites for power. Three witches appear to Macbeth, and reveal a future to him that first sees him becoming the new Thane of Cawdor, and then finally the King of Scotland. The prophecy comes with a warning, however, disguised in a riddle. They say that Macbeth will reign until Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane, and that he cannot be deposed by any man born of woman. Of course he takes this to mean that his royal dreams are secure, since trees are rooted in the ground and can’t move, and all men are born of women.
When the Thane of Cawdor is executed by King Duncan for treason, Duncan names Macbeth the new thane. This only stokes the fires of the Macbeths’ burning need to hurry along the prophecy, and they plot the demise of the king.
When King Duncan comes to visit the Macbeths, Macbeth murders him in his sleep, blaming it on guards he has drugged and planted the knife on. Now Macbeth must get rid of Duncan’s sons, but they escape his grasp and run into exile. He also must brutally kill a series of other people, including children, who seem to stand in his way of ascension to the throne.
In the end, Lacy Macbeth is driven mad with guilt and kills herself, Birnham Wood does come to Dunsinane, and Macbeth does meet a man not born of woman, who kills him, thereby ending not only his life, but the killing spree he and Lady Macbeth have embarked upon.
The cast includes some perennial favorite actors: Andrew Carlson as Macbeth, and Chris Gerson as Macduff, most notably, plus others whom regular attendees will recognize, and whose performances are to be savored. As Lady Macbeth, Leah Gabriel, in her second season with GRSF, really comes into her own as an actor of considerable talent.
The set, designed by R. Eric Stone, is masterful, as bleak and violent as the story. It reminded me of a man I met many years ago who described his isolated farmstead as, “Out where the world is nailed up with boards.” It makes one wonder why Macbeth would want to be the king of such a place.
The lighting, sound, special effects, and costumes seamlessly set the scene and propel the narrative.
Welcome back, Paul Barnes, and thank you for a powerful night of theater.
Macbeth will be playing in repertory through August 3. Tickets may be ordered online at grsf.org, at 507-474-7900, or at the box office at the Winona Visitors Center on Huff Street by the lake.