Shannon Bradley & Ruairidh Kerr.Crystal Ludwick Photo, courtesy of Commonwealth Theatre Center.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Hallie Dizdarevic
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
I remember studying the Scottish play during my junior year in high school. The themes of unchecked ambition and the question of power in gender roles are significant, weighty topics for anyone, let alone teenagers. I’m happy to report that the cast of Macbeth, as part of the Young American Shakespeare Festival at Commonwealth Theatre Center, is more than up to the task.
By now, I’m sure most people know the story: After a daring feat of battle, Macbeth and Banquo meet a trio of otherworldly witches who prophesize that Macbeth shall become Thane of Cawdor and eventually king. When Macbeth shares the good news with the Lady Macbeth, she pushes him into committing regicide in order to fulfill this destiny. And things spiral out of control from there. In fits of rage, madness, and doubt over the quality of his manhood, Macbeth commits unspeakable acts to get what he wants and in so doing, ends up bringing about his own demise. The story has become a fairly typical cautionary tale that most people are at least basically familiar enough to be accessible to.
As is the case with most modern Shakespeare productions, there seems to be this need to try and dress it up with modern flair and costumery to make the story relevant. The aesthetic of this production is sort of punk rock tartan with a dash of Mad Max thrown in. There’s assorted imagery projected behind the actors during the scene transitions to create a sense of unease throughout the production. While I did not hate this – some of the costumes are a lot of fun – I did find said costumes and imagery to be distracting from some really fantastic performances from the young actors and an incredible score created by Meg Caudill that all achieved the same goals.
The command of the Shakespearian language is perhaps the most important thing here, and from top to bottom, the players demonstrate a more than adequate grasp of it. I don’t want to patronize the actors over their age, but I was very impressed in this regard. Ruairidh Kerr and Shannon Bradley as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectfully play some of the most challenging characters in the canon with skill and subtlety – except for the times when subtlety is very much not what is called for. I would also like to bring focus to William Ngong whose presence and voice on stage are absolutely arresting. He made more than a formidable foe in Macduff.
As I write this, it comes to mind that this is the first play that I have reviewed twice – I also reviewed Kentucky Shakespeare’s production back in 2015. The voice and movement work that is done here is every bit the match of that professional production, and I will also say that (spoiler?) the moment when Macduff’s entire family is murdered is the first time I’ve been truly disturbed by that scene.
The future of Kentucky classical acting is on stage here during this festival, and I implore you to give it a chance. It’s a rare case where grand ambition has paid off.
2019 Young American Shakespeare Festival
May 9, 11, 14, 17 @ 7:30, May 19 @ 8:00
May 10, 15 @ 7:30, May 12, 18 @ 2:00, May 19 @ 12:30
The Winter’s Tale
May 11 @ 2:00, May 12, 16, 18 @ 7:30, May 19 @ 4:00
Nancy Sexton Stage
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.