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The wyrd and the dead

PCPA brings Shakespeare's Scottish play to life

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- THANE, THANE, KING :  Corey Jones stars as the title character in Macbeth. -  - PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • THANE, THANE, KING : Corey Jones stars as the title character in Macbeth.
The basic outline for the plot to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth can be explained in a children’s book. If you give the Thane of Glamis (Macbeth, the title character) the title Thane of Cawdor, he’s going to want to be king. And if he manages to become king, through foul and treacherous murder, he will be discontent, wanting to be “safely thus.” Then, of course, he’ll want a glass of milk to wash it all down and help him sleep off the memory of his crimes. This is where all resemblance between play and children’s book ends.

The Scottish Play, as the theatrical community calls it, is as malevolent and bloody as any Tarantino film. It boasts a female character whose spine seems to be reinforced with steel, making Macbeth one of Shakespeare’s most memorable plays. PCPA is staging the production, set in sparse 10th century Scotland, through March 7.

The location is effectively established with minimal set elements, the centerpiece, figuratively and almost literally, being a large gladiatorial pit onstage. The circle doesn’t seem to serve much purpose, beyond acting as a kind of spotlight that places emphasis on certain events and exchanges. When two characters approach one another within the ring, the suggestion of battle and survival are inherent. A stone outcropping, topped by a large tree, serves as the only other major set element.

The only concessions made to domesticity or civilization are a chair and bassinet that appear only briefly; the collapse between wild and cruel nature and gentle and orderly civilization is immediately apparent. Even the scenes which we know to take place inside a castle appear to be outside, among the rocks and trees. It’s a set smartly done, designed to play with the mind of its audience.

Everybody’s favorite wyrd sisters—traditionally interpreted as witches, though Shakespeare never actually calls them that—receive an unexpected makeover. Wearing bodysuits trimmed with flora-like strings of fabric, the trio creeps and staggers and stalks, hisses and croaks, more like amoebas evolving painfully into higher life forms than cackling witches. They dip into backbends, and seem to lurk at the periphery of every scene.

- WYRDO :  Peter Hadres performs as one of the wyrd sisters in PCPA’s production of Macbeth. -  - PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • WYRDO : Peter Hadres performs as one of the wyrd sisters in PCPA’s production of Macbeth.
Jazmine Thompson, Melany Juhl, and Peter Hadres—that’s right, a male wyrd sister—give physical performances. But by the time the infamous “double, double, toil and trouble” scene occurs, the creatures have almost worn out their welcome. The wyrd sisters are laudably wyrd, and fresh, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Pulling back on their stage time, or even degree of exaggeration, would have made the double double scene much more appealing. And when they wield staffs, plucked from the earth, I’m fairly certain that I caught a glimpse of a plastic doll encircled in one of the staffs, which—unless a bizarre trick of the eye—oversteps the boundary between weird and shabby. Hadres also plays the porter, mockingly tripping around the edge of the ring, eliciting much-wanted laughter with his inebriated banter. Though a brief role, Hadres makes it memorable, and delightful.

Another standout was Mark Booher who seemed to fall into the role of Banquo very naturally. He stands as a reasonable and solid presence whose death truly marks the play’s downward violent spiral.

As for the hand that spilled Banquo’s blood, Corey Jones is a respectable Macbeth leaping from innocence to plotting to madness and guilt more quickly than a reading of the text of the play can reveal. The wyrd sisters might be responsible for planting the initial seed, but it is startling how quickly it takes root. Too often when performing Shakespeare, actors tend to perform the role with a degree of pomp that reinforces, for the audience, the fact that they are watching a play. The character—whether a king or fairy—never becomes an actual person. Jones’ Macbeth retained a shade of this exaggeration. When he speaks, the impression is that he speaks for the audience. This style was well suited to the character’s ravings as the play progresses. When he snatches at daggers that do not exist and bemoans the fact that he cannot pronounce amen, the shadow of melodrama meets well the impression of madness. But it makes it difficult to regard Macbeth as a living and breathing human. 

- HOARSE RAVENS:  PCPA presents Macbeth through March 7. Shows take place Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sundays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $17.75 and up for students and children, $23.40 and up for seniors, and $26.25 and up for adults. For more information or to purchase tickets visit pcpa.org or call 922-8313. -
  • HOARSE RAVENS: PCPA presents Macbeth through March 7. Shows take place Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sundays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $17.75 and up for students and children, $23.40 and up for seniors, and $26.25 and up for adults. For more information or to purchase tickets visit pcpa.org or call 922-8313.
And Macbeth’s fair lady, who chides, seduces, and encourages him towards his first act of murder is played magnificently by Elizabeth Stuart. It requires a good actress to convince the audience, and her husband, in the space of a few lines to murder a man he has sworn to serve. Stuart doesn’t bellow her lines, or accompany them with grand flourishes and gestures. She speaks them, sometimes softly, sometimes more loudly, always convincingly. She makes much of such delicious lines as “was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself,” and comes across as—of all incredible things—a woman. That might seem too simple, too unambitious an aim for a performance about kings and queens and treachery, but the woman is an easier target of sympathy than the queen just as Macbeth’s appeal resides not in the “golden round” that hangs unjustly on his brow, but in the all-too-human guilt and terrors he must suffer as a consequence of his actions.

Happily the tale is not, as Macbeth suggests, told by an idiot. Nor does it signify nothing. There are a few moments when you just have to delve beyond the theatrics to get there.

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan. Shoot daggers at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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