OGDEN — It’s intense, aggressive, and violent, but entirely enthralling. It is hard not to respond to this “Die Hard version,” (Eric Weiman, actor) that the Utah Shakespeare Festival is touring around schools because it is such an excellent production, and makes Macbeth equal to any of Shakespeare’s plays. The story is full of dynamic characters and winding intentions; there is real pain in this script, and it’s caused by human weakness.
One of these characters, a despicable one really, is Lady Macbeth, who wants so badly for her husband to become king. Shakespeare gave this character so many beautiful lines and Natasha Harris wove them easily into her malicious portrayal. Lady Macbeth says lines like, “Which shall to all our nights and days to come give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.” Harris captured Lady Macbeth’s ambition and intellect, and her infinite power to persuade Macbeth. She looked so satisfied entering the stage on the arm of King Macbeth; her smugness is toxic, and her fall into madness is mesmerizing.
Throughout his many monologues, and huge emotional journey, Drew Shirley is impressive as Macbeth. Shirley shows an encyclopedia of feelings and personality traits; between his moments of evil, he was also absurd and charming. Shirley reeled us in and made us care about him—especially during those moments of doubt and remorse. Shirley made Macbeth a power addict, craving the witches and their images of fame; he could never get enough, was never satisfied. Shirley put an awful cherry on top of his performance with the sound he made as he was killed. My stomach cringed at that sound—it was amazing.
Another stand out performance was Eric Weiman, whose roles roles included a heart-broken son, an insightful drunk, and a murderer that evokes a distinct chill. Each of the scenes is impacting in different ways, because it felt like Weiman put everything he had into each one. As Malcolm, though, Weiman’s aching sadness (after the death of Duncan) was the only moment any emotion was tangible. Weiman’s portrayal of Malcolm just wasn’t interesting, and the scene between Macduff and Malcolm was the only time the show lagged.
The drama in this production is heightened by Scott Palfreyman’s intense sound design, including the ominous music that played as prelude, and again as Macbeth tells the stars to “hide the darkness in [his] soul.” Pounding noises, made by actors with long upright poles, grew louder and louder, immediately heightening conflict, violence, and fear. The witches (Natasha Harris, Sceri Ivers, and Molly Wetzel) were fantastic in their creepiness, especially when they echoed lines and their voices layered on top of each other. The best use of sound was a single violin note, which slowly slid up in tone as Macbeth reasoned and debated within himself.
Quinn Mattfeld directed this condensed Macbeth, which Utah Shakespeare Festival produces to educate and inspire young audiences. The plot-line felt abrupt at times, as titles were passed down immediately following a death, and when Andrew Voss dies as Duncan and then enters the stage as Macduff asking about Duncan. Despite the abrupt plot-line the pace was upbeat and an asset to the structure of the play. The audience, mostly full of high school students, laughed at certain fighting maneuvers, references to breast milk, and “woo”d at any kissing. Each scene melted into the next: the witches disappeared suddenly after their scenes, and the murderers swept onside like a wave. Mattfeld’s fight scenes and acts of murder followed this smooth pattern as well; the image of Macduff’s family being killed was a terrible one, but it was done efficiently and left an impact. The interpretation and execution of both the banquet scene and the witches/weird sisters was fantastic.
USF put together a strong and memorable Macbeth for this year’s education tour. The talent and creativity in this show is inspiring, and the environment they built is haunting. As one who was touched by the Festival in my high school years, I was truly impressed by this production, and excited for the students who will see it.