Yalies accustomed to seeing Shakespeare’s Macbeth kilted, Celtic and far-removed from their daily lives may have to reconsider their image of the iconic killer.
A new production of “Macbeth” opens this Thursday at the Whitney Theater, intertwining vignettes from American history with the plot of the classic revenge play. Sam Lasman ’12, the production’s director, said his vision stems from his desire to make the play resonate with students by incorporating historical settings that are “a natural place for horror and violence and politics,” such as scenes of presidential assassinations and terror à la Edgar Allen Poe. The show, a senior project for Lasman, Jamie Biondi ’12 and Kate Pitt ’12, is partly funded by the Shakespeare at Yale festival.
Lasman said that while many directors see “Macbeth” as a show inextricably tied to the old world, he wanted his production to prove that the play reads well in an American context. Lasman is a staff columnist for the News.
“It’s done in a way that’s creepily close to home,” Biondi said. “It’s haunting to move forward from when ‘Macbeth’ should be set to enter this weird between-Americana land. It makes you go ‘Oh dear god, look at all this that’s in our past.’”
Scenes are paired with folk songs, Lasman said, while the murdered kings are recast as United States presidents. The set abandons craggy Scottish landscapes for pillars and a minimalist grunge vibe, the aesthetic seen recently in the fall 2010 production of “RENT” and last spring’s “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” said Stuart Teal ’14, a member of the production’s lighting crew.
Pitt, who plays Lady Macbeth, said the role has a special significance for her given its historical twist. A double major in Theater Studies and History, Pitt said her senior essay focuses on an actress who played Lady Macbeth in a production of the play during the Civil War.
“In the American frame, there’s always this fear of the woman behind the throne, like Eleanor Roosevelt,” Pitt said.
She added that she sees Lady Macbeth’s desire to gain power through her husband as a parallel to some perceptions of First Lady Michelle Obama as influential only through her husband.
The Shakespeare at Yale initiative boosted the show’s budget with $1,600 in funding, enabling an especially large set, which Lasman said cost more itself than the entire budget for any other show he has directed at Yale.
The show, Lasman said, is not meant to be the final word on “Macbeth,” but instead aims to give the audience a new perspective on classic elements of the tragedy. He said that Yalies’ prior familiarity with the production is an “obstacle,” but one that he hopes to work with by presenting original stagings of particularly iconic scenes, such as the appearance of Banquo’s ghost.
“People aren’t going to come and say this is the be-all and end-all of ‘Macbeth,’” Biondi said. “They’re not going to say it wasn’t right — they’ll see it as a really awesome thing that had all the elements of Macbeth but was actually doing something about it.”
Prior experience with Theater Studies senior projects will help audiences understand the spin the three seniors are putting on “Macbeth,” Teal said. “Older people expecting to see the standard ‘Macbeth’ will be surprised — it’ll be interesting.”
Biondi said the show nearly sold out 24 hours after ticket reservations opened on the Yale Drama Coalition website last Wednesday.
“Macbeth” will run Feb. 2 through Feb. 4 at the Whitney Humanities Center.