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Macbeth at Shakespeare Northwest

By Teri Grimes

The Blackrock Amphitheatre serves as a perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s haunting and bloody masterpiece, Macbeth, opening on July 10th this week. The Amphitheatre is an enormous curve of black sandstone set in a field next to the Rexville Grange. Starting its fifth season in this venue, Shakespeare Northwest will present the 14th annual Skagit River Shakespeare Festival in this outdoor space from July 10 through August 16, 2014. The festival will include Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
Macbeth is directed with a sure hand by Trey Hatch, and the setting of the Amphitheatre sets us very squarely in the Scottish Highlands. The set is a simple arrangement of platforms and tents which is traditional for Shakespearean stages. And it works beautifully for this production. Natural lighting, and a simple drum and thunder sheet set the mood as the show commences. This production has been assembled with much care and detail. The costumes are an eclectic mix of Scottish kilts interspersed with an amalgam of suggestive pieces that blend into a nicely unified look. Period broad swords and knives add realism to the visceral fight scenes.
Our first glimpse in the production is of the creepy, prophecy-bearing witches, played with earthy nastiness by Beth Greatorex, Cassandra Leon and Carolyn Travis. The witches hail Macbeth as king, and Banquo as a father of kings to come. Banquo is played with understated vulnerability by James Brown, and he gives a nice counterpoint to that vulnerability when he returns as a blood-soaked ghost seeking vengeance.
We sense that the people of Scotland are immersed in constant civil wars. Michael Wallace plays a testy and aged King Duncan who is about to welcome Banquo and his great general, Macbeth, back from the plague of battle.
Bjorn A. Whitney gives us a Macbeth who is essentially most comfortable as a soldier. Though he is not without ambition or the urge to rule, he needs a catalyst to command him to act on his desires. Enter Lady Macbeth, the voice of unreasoning ambition. Whitney’s performance as Macbeth is spot on – tightly well-paced and focused, his performance is given with verve and energy. His diction is flawless, and his physicality solidly martial. Jaime Mastromonica gives a nicely layered performance as Lady M, although her innate sweetness tends to negate some of the necessary sexual overtones needed for the role. However, she really shines in her final sleepwalking scene when guilt overrides her passion, and leads to her ultimate demise.
The opposing heroic characters of Macbeth have an uphill battle competing with the wonderful badness of Macbeth and his lady. However, this cast is equal to the battle and never allow their characters to become stiff or boring. John Roberson as Malcolm the true heir, is especially good and makes us worry for the future of Scotland. Thomas Beirne as the noble Macduff has some very nice moments of internalized acting; Zoe Bronstein as Lady Macduff, and Scott Alan Andrews as the Earl of Northumberland give polished and intentional performances. I greatly enjoyed the performance of Raido McComas as the drunken porter who provides the only comic relief in this dark world.
Macbeth’s henchmen, nobles and servants round out a solid cast of characters that obviously know their stuff. As for those witches, they scurry and skulk about with the help of Hecate, played to creepy, zombiesque perfection by Glynna Goff, determined to cause havoc and enjoy the fruits of their mischief.
If you go, look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org or on Facebook for dates, times, tickets and more information. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome – and bring the bug spray!
Shakespeare Northwest, 2014 Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, shakesnw.org

Macbeth at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
Iron Man on 7/26 with 3 shows for $30
Macbeth plays July 10, 11, 17, 19, 25, 25 and
August 1, 7, 9, 15 at 7:00 p.m.
August 3 at 2:00 p.m.

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