The Scottish Play comes to America

A new exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art will showcase the art of a man whose work has not been exhibited globally in 35 years.

The Yale Drama Coalition’s new production of “Macbeth,” directed by Sam Lasman ’12, reimagines the Scottish play in “a timeless landscape of American mythmaking,” according to the Coalition’s website. And while the transitions between different scenes and time periods are disorienting at times, when taken together they manage to carve out a unique time and a setting for the play. While clearly American, Lasman taps into something otherworldly, so that the production feels simultaneously foreign and familiar. Shakespeare’s language blends effortlessly into this new backdrop, with his most famous lines sounding natural even when delivered with a slight Southern drawl.

Much of the production’s power is in the attention it gives the small things. Every visual and auditory detail of the production is planned and executed so as to give each scene its maximum impact. One is left with a barrage of vivid sensory impressions, from the brilliant smear of blood across Lady Macbeth’s cheek to the deafening chirping of crickets as Macbeth sees the dagger on the wall.

The intimacy of the Whitney Theater heightens the visual intensity of the experience. One can almost see the stage lights reflected in Lady Macbeth’s glittering eyes, and the individual drops of blood falling from Macbeth’s hand as he walks across the stage.

This minute attention to detail carries over to the acting. The extremely versatile cast of eight also manages to make even easily overlooked scenes emotionally wrenching. The disturbing domestic scene preceding the murder of Lady Macduff and her child has a horror movie-like suspense to it. Other scenes between minor characters become unexpectedly affecting with the addition of wonderfully human details, such as a young boy playing with a sword in the background of a scene, or two tired soldiers passing back and forth a bottle of Jack Daniels.

The use of sound throughout the production adds another dimension to almost every line. The show opens on a dark stage with a haunting, a cappella rendition of “Dreadful Wind and Rain,” sung over a background of thunder and gunfire. It immerses the audience in the show’s atmosphere long before a word has been spoken, or the actors can even be seen. Later on, the Weird Sisters turn the familiar “Double, double toil and trouble” scene into something startling and primitive, beating together simple props, with which they build their own unnerving music, punctuated by visceral shrieks and stamping feet.

The show’s constant, layered use of sounds makes its silences all the more effective. In some of the show’s most powerful moments, Macbeth (played by Jamie Biondi ’12) delivers his quiet, restrained “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech to an utterly silent stage; in another, he and Lady Macbeth sit facing one another on opposite sides of a table in a painfully protracted silence.

Biondi and Katherine Pitt ’12 deliver richly textured performances as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Their powerful chemistry makes the production into as compelling a portrait of a marriage in flux as it is a story of murder and political intrigue. The changing physical dynamic between the two lends an emotional dimension to their relationship and its ultimate collapse. Lady Macbeth begins in a position of power during the couple’s first passionate embraces. But as the play ends, when she is already bordering on insanity, she desperately flings herself into Macbeth’s arms as though a child seeking protection.

As played by Bonnie Antosh ’13, Olivia Scicolone ’14 and Pitt, the Weird Sisters are one of the particular highlights of the production. Their voices weave in and out of the action, with their eerie renditions of Southern ballads that will be familiar to anyone who’s been to a T.U.I.B. concert.

Bonnie Antosh ’13 especially delivers a chilling performance as a blind, diminutive witch, who stumbles and gropes her way through her scenes with a bloody blindfold placed over her eyes. Antosh’s performance is remarkable for the breathtaking speed with which she transforms from a helpless, crooning victim into something inhuman, and genuinely frightening.

For all of its horror and suspense, Macbeth is carefully broken up by comic scenes. Most notably Tom Sanchez ’12, in his role as the drunken Porter, uses sheer physical expressiveness to make hilarious a scene the humor of which countless English teachers have tried and failed to explain to generations of high-schoolers.

“Macbeth” is Shakespeare’s shortest play, and the production remained consistently gripping despite its lack of intermission, only dragging a little bit towards the end, before picking up again for its action packed, and ultimately unsettling conclusion.

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