SPRING GREEN, Wis. - Watching American Players Theatre's production of "Macbeth" is as close as you're ever likely to come to experiencing the play the way William Shakespeare's patrons originally experienced it.
It's not that director James DeVita recreated the authentic 1606 staging of the famed drama; far from it.
Instead, DeVita and his colleagues used every bit of the 21st-century stage, lighting and sound systems of APT to make the play easily accessible to those who did not spend hours researching the plots and language of Shakespeare before showing up.
And they did it without changing the play. The actors speak the lines of blank verse that Shakespeare composed. The play includes all the competing and confusing plot lines of the playwright's day.
But the APT production uses the theater's setting in the Spring Green woods, its startling sound system and some stop-action direction to make the play come alive, even to those who have never seen it and have no idea what it's about.
That starts at the very beginning (sorry). The APT stage is open to the woods behind, and as "Macbeth" starts, an army of screaming Scottish soldiers, waving swords and axes, bursts from the woods, across the stage and out through the audience.
Kind of catches your attention.
One problem with Shakespeare's themes is that they combine the complexities of "Game of Thrones" and of grand opera. There are competing plots that are hard to keep straight, and the dialogue is so fast and so complex that it is sometimes hard to figure out who is saying what.
DeVita handles that by having all action stop momentarily while one of the actors says his lines before fast action resumes.
That provides the same function – to use an opera analogy again – of subtitles translating another language into contemporary English.
Finally, the lighting plays an intriguing role in this production.
One of the most familiar themes of "Macbeth" comes in the middle of the play, when Banquo's ghost – King Macbeth kills Banquo – appears at a festive banquet. In this production, there is no physical ghost, just a green light shining on a stool.
Now, for the play itself:
The basic plot is that Macbeth, thane of Glamis (a "thane" is a Scottish peer whose lands were awarded by the king as reward for meritorious service), is promised by three witches that he will himself become king.
Macbeth, played by Marcus Truschinski, egged on by his wife, Melisa Pererya, speeds things along by murdering King Duncan and his servants. Duncan's daughter, Malcolm (Cristina Panfilio) flees to England and Macbeth becomes king.
He is, however, so fearful of losing his throne that he goes about killing any potential rival but those killings just make him and Lady Macbeth ever more anxious. In the end, their killings result in their own demise.
It is a long and complicated play, and in this production, it seems over almost before it begins. This staging is just a remarkable achievement.
The acting is almost uniformly superb, but we kind of take that for granted at APT.
The play contains a greater than usual number of famous quotes, including "Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble" (actually, this production says, "double, toil and trouble double," but we get the point) and "Nothing in his life becomes him like the leaving of it."
One other thing makes this production distinctive: Two of the major roles, those of Malcolm, child of King Duncan, and Banquo, thane of Scotland, are played by women, Panfilio and Laura Rook. APT didn't change the names or the roles, it just decreed the characters to be women. It worked just fine.
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