Oh, the curse.
It is common lore that to utter the word “Macbeth” in a theater is to invite bad luck.
Ignore it. Call it good fortune that the Theater at Monmouth is presenting William Shakespeare’s classic drama featuring witches, Scottish lairds and, of course, bloodshed.
“Sleep no more. Macbeth doth murder!”
For those unfamiliar with the plot, three creepy witches foretell a change in power. If Macbeth is willing to make a stab at it, pun intended, he can become the new ruler of Scotland.
He’s a bit rattled by this news but his wife, in true marital support, thinks he just needs a little confidence boost and a good kick to the kilt to make killing the king happen. One death leads to another until his own downfall is foretold. Something about the walking woods and “a man not from a woman born” but really, it’s the guilt and hubris that drive him and the lady down that low road of no return.
With minimal set dressing and costumes that denote station, not setting, director Dawn McAndrews has stripped Macbeth down to bare ambition, leaving little to come between the audience and Shakespeare’s words. She writes in the liner notes that she sees Lady Macbeth and her husband as a true love partnership.
Josh Carpenter and Lucy Lavely at turns flirt lustily and press each other’s buttons just as any young married couple would. These skilled actors give the play’s text the context necessary for today’s modern viewers.
Especially delicious is the dinner scene in the second half, in which the usual focus is Macbeth spiraling in a frenzy of hysteria at seeing a spectral Banquo appear to point a phantasmic finger at his slayer.
While Carpenter gets crazier in his corner of the dining room, Lavely plays Lady Macbeth as the loving but practical wife whose patience is running thin. With a comedic “nothing to see here” zaniness, she tries to cover up her husband’s mental breakdown as eccentric quirkiness, offering much needed levity in a play where the body count is higher than Ben Nevis.
The highlight of this production is the witches. The stage is decorated in ripped gauzy fabric that resembles Spanish moss and the three crones wear similar fabric to firmly set the story in their witchy realm. Atmospheric lighting and striking sound effects give the stage an eerie ethereal quality.
Three cast members wear white masks on their heads, forcing them to hunch over like the crones they appear yet they move with an undulating litheness to underscore the message that all is not what it seems. They are mesmerizing to watch.
Most of the murders take place off stage. It is only when the weird sisters summon the ghostly victims to process along the lych way that Macbeth can count and bear witness to all his crimes.
Was it fate that made him murder? Was it ambition? Was it Lady Macbeth?
Head to the Theater at Monmouth and decide for yourself.
“Macbeth” plays in repertory at the Theater at Monmouth, Cumston Hall, 796 Main St., Monmouth, through Aug 18. Tickets can be purchased on the theater’s website.