Intense relationships, chilling murders and William Shakespeare’s dramatic prose will come to life on stage at Whitney Theater this weekend and next weekend in “The Company and the Text: Macbeth.”
The production is a joint senior thesis project for Erika Anclade ’19, Dana “Danny” Smooke ’18 and Dillon Miller ’18, and is directed by theater studies professor Deborah Margolin. It is also the culmination of the fall semester class “The Actor and the Text: Macbeth,” a seminar taught by Margolin. Throughout the semester, members of the class — who comprise the cast and crew of the show — delved into the text of the play, questioning its themes, interpreting its characters and seeking to explain or fill in gaps in the original narrative.
“We’re not just putting on a play,” said assistant director Annie Saenger ’19. “I think the biggest virtue is that we’re interrogating the play — we’re really thinking about it. [Margolin] is the director, but she’s not the only one making decisions.”
In interrogating the text, the class members introduced and addressed many questions, but one in particular stood out: “Where’s the baby?” In Act I Scene VII, Lady Macbeth briefly mentions a baby in the past tense during an exchange with Macbeth, suggesting that the baby was deceased by that point in the play.
“Having a baby is not a trivial event,” Margolin said. “Where is this baby?”
“The Company and the Text: Macbeth” answers this question through the addition of a two-part prologue that provides a backstory about the baby. The prologue establishes the couple’s relationship and sets the stage for Lady Macbeth’s attitude and inner motivations, said Smooke, who plays Lady Macduff and is heavily involved in production design for the play.
Anclade, who plays Lady Macbeth and chose to approach the play through a feminist lens for her thesis project, said her character is motivated by “transcendence” — existence beyond the normal or physical level.”
“She’s looking for ways to transcend herself, always,” Anclade said. “Throughout the play, the ways that she tries to transcend herself keep getting taken away until she’s driven mad. … [We focus] on the fact that she’s lost a child. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that the act of pregnancy is a transcendent experience, and she can never have that.”
Another challenge emerged from studying the text of the play: a lack of character background. Margolin said that this was a marked difference from other Shakespeare plays, such as “Hamlet,” and that it necessitated a great deal of reflection on the part of the actors and production team.
“I didn’t know these characters before they started just murdering people,” Margolin said. “The playwright is asking us to be playwrights.”
Miller, who plays Macbeth, added that the play’s lack of backstory and intercharacter dynamics provides actors with a large amount of freedom.
For Miller, the play is a project in sociology rather than in theater studies. He believes the defining aspect of the production is the strong relationships between characters.
Smooke said that the set and costume design also make the show unique and express ideas about the text discussed by the cast and crew.
“We don’t know a lot about these people, so that allows for a lot of filler interpretation,” Smooke said. “It’s one of Shakespeare’s plays that’s most creative in its adaptation.”
The set design process began with the bed, a key setting in the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, Smooke said. The costuming choices also reflect their relationship and their individual dispositions — they include a “very sensuous, flowy, carefree” wardrobe for the pair in the prologue, but a tighter, more tailored approach after the trauma of the loss of their child.
More than anything, the production has been a team effort, cast and crew members agreed.
“It’s a great group of people who came together with different visions for the play,” said Titilayo Mabogunje ’20, who plays Duncan, Young Macduff and Young Seward. “It’s merging and coming together very nicely, and I’m really excited for what’s going to happen.”
Performances will take place on Dec. 2 and Dec. 7–9 at 8 p.m., with a matinee on Dec. 3 at 2 p.m.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org