Directed by Chris and Emily Huber; Adapted by Emily Huber; Scenic Design by Jeff Cunningham; Light Design by Justin “Tex” Griffiths; Sound Design by Chris Huber; Costume Design by Emily Huber; Fight Choreography by Chris Valentine and James Karthauser, Jr; Featuring Ian Banchs (Mentieth), Sarah Deroussea (Lady Macbeth); Marcelo Derousseau (Thane of Cawdor/Murderer), Ken Dezarn (Duncan), Suzanne Edwards (Witch), Justin “Tex” Griffiths (Macduff), Irec Hargrove (Ross), Kevin Hill (Young Macduff/Fleance), Grant Hodel (Scottish Doctor), Chris Huber (Porter); George Festin Lorenzo (Caithness), Devon McLaughlin (Witch), Mitch Mitchell (Macbeth), Joseph Plachno (Banquo), Ann Reynolds (Witch), Adrian Scarff (Malcolm/Murderer), Brad Shearhart (Lennox), Trevor Stewart (Angus), Krista Yarbrogh (Lady Macduff/Gentlewoman/Murderer).
Reviewed by Joe Falocco (Texas State University)
“Stonehenge II,” the scaled-down replica of its English namesake on the grounds of the Hill County Arts Foundation, provided an effectively evocative setting for the Point Outdoor Theatre’s 2014 staging of Macbeth. Within the inner semi-circle of stone arches, the company placed a bare white stage that recalled the unlocalized playing area of early modern playhouses and of their Greek and Roman antecedents. This setting combined with an eclectic mix of costumes from various historical periods to advance the directors’ concept of a Macbeth that would be “more than a medieval tale, not limited to a particular place or country,” and which would contain “themes that extend across the ages into modern life” (quoted from the production’s program).
Although Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, it often seems long in performance. Practitioners are therefore well-advised to make cuts. One can always quibble about what stays and what goes, but the abridgments of Emily Huber (credited in the program as having “adapted” the script) were for the most part judicious. The significant reduction of the “bleeding Captain’s” battle narration (1.2.9-45) maintained the essential exposition of this section. I felt the absence of the ironic exchange between Duncan and Banquo which begins “This castle hath a pleasant seat” (1.6.1-11), but these lines can be cut without compromising the narrative. It takes a truly gifted comedian to make the Porter’s soliloquy (2.3.1-20) work, and by removing it Huber enabled her Porter (Chris Huber) to milk the ensuing exchange about drink and lechery (2.3.24-44) for its full comic effect.
Less successful than these abridgements, however, were Huber’s various textual transpositions. In at least two cases, she interfered with her leading actors’ ability to build sections of dialogue to an appropriate rhetorical climax. The first of these came after Sarah Derousseau’s Lady Macbeth swore to overcome all that impedes her husband from “the golden round” (1.5.33). As in the received text, Messengers arrived at this point to announce Duncan’s impending visit and Macbeth’s imminent return. But then, inexplicably, Mitch Mitchell’s Macbeth entered immediately upon the Messengers’ heels. At first I thought that Huber had cut Lady Macbeth’s “unsex me” soliloquy (1.5.45-60). As it was, however, she delivered this speech after her first scene with Macbeth, immediately before the arrival of Duncan. There were several dramaturgical problems with this adapted sequence. First, it was clumsy. If one did want Macbeth to arrive immediately after the “golden round” speech, there would be no need to have the Messengers announce his coming. Since Macbeth reiterates the news of Duncan’s visit (1.6.68) the Messengers could have been eliminated from this scene altogether. More significantly, Huber robbed the audience of its glimpse into the depths of Lady Macbeth’s psyche before her first exchange with her husband. As a result, the ensuing scene fell flat because we did not yet know all that Lady Macbeth was thinking.
A more egregious and less efficacious transposition came in the middle of Macbeth’s “dagger” soliloquy (2.1.77). Rather than staging the exchange between Banquo and Macbeth before this speech, as in the received text (2.1.15-40), Huber had Mitchell start the soliloquy, only to be interrupted halfway through by Banquo and Fleance (Joseph Plachno and Kevin Hill). Needless to say, Mitchell struggled to get back on track after their exit. The soliloquy in question contains perhaps the greatest rhetorical build in the Shakespearean canon, and by breaking it up Huber demonstrated a certain amount of tone-deafness. That Mitchell’s performance suffered as a result was evidenced by his skillful handling of the “To be thus is nothing” soliloquy (3.1.51-77), which he delivered without interpolation as per the received text.
By far the most awkward textual emendation came at the conclusion of the “cauldron” scene (4.1). Here Macbeth exited before his final speech in the received text (4.1.163-77), and left Lennox (Brad Shearhart) and Angus (Trevor Stewart) on stage. In the dialogue that followed, Angus spoke many of the lines normally given to Lady Macduff in the following scene (4.2), and Lennox spoke some of those typically attributed to Ross. After the exit of Angus and Lennox, the murder of Lady Macduff and her son (Krista Yarbrough and Kevin Hill) was acted out upstage in silent pantomime while Macbeth spoke the delayed soliloquy about his “dread exploits” (4.1.163-77) downstage right. The goal was no doubt to create a cinematic “split-screen” effect, but the audience would have felt more sympathy for Lady Macduff if it could have heard her speak the lines written for her before she was killed. Nor is it equitable to take some of the few lines in this play written for a female character and give them to a male one.
Readers should note that this is not a plea for textual fidelity. I have elsewhere argued that practitioners should aggressively abridge Shakespeare in performance and, when necessary, transpose material in the interest of narrative clarity. But a first principle in such endeavors should always be a Hippocratic desire to do no harm. There is little to be gained by “fixing” elements of the received text that are not broken. For a playgoer familiar with the Folio Macbeth, Huber’s emendations were so jarring that it was difficult to evaluate the acting in this production. Overall, the major characters were played competently, and Brad Shearhart’s clear delivery as Lennox showed him worthy of larger roles. There was, as is frequently the case in Texas, an inconsistent effort among the company to “Anglify” their speech by adopting some diluted form of British accent. This is unfortunate, as their already good performances would have been even more effective if spoken in their own voices.
The application of universal lighting would have advanced the trans-historical approach that was the stated goal of this endeavor. With both actors and spectators bathed in unwavering illumination, the production could have embraced an “original practice” common to Shakespeare’s playhouses and those of the classical era. Overlapping entrances and exits on a universally lit stage would also have helped achieve the brisk pace intended by the heavily-abridged script. Instead, the action ground to a halt at the end of each scene. Actors would exit, followed by a dimming of the lights, and the next scenes’ performers would not enter until the lights had come back up to their previous intensity. With a few notable exceptions (particularly during the final combat scene when flashing lights enhanced the violent atmosphere), the electronic illumination provided nothing but visibility. There was little attempt to use lighting to create a sense of place or otherwise achieve any dramatic effect. It was therefore difficult to justify these awkward pauses between scenes, which made the performance seem to drag despite its brief, ninety-minute duration (excluding intermission). Decades have now passed since the American Shakespeare Center (in its previous incarnation as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) first established the efficacy of universal lighting. Yet many practitioners stubbornly refuse to accept that audiences can follow the action of a Shakespeare play without lighting cues between the scenes. This continued insistence on narrative illumination recalls those aristocratic horsemen in the early twentieth century who lobbied Western military forces to maintain expensive and anachronistic cavalry forces long after they had been rendered obsolete.
Despite the intrusive lighting cues and textual emendations that sometimes did more harm than good, the Point Outdoor Theatre’s Macbeth offered an accessible version of the play to an appreciative audience. I look forward to seeing more performances in this intriguing venue.
 Act, Scene, Line Numbers and Quotations from The New Folger Library Edition of Macbeth, eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (New York and London: Washington Square Press, 1992).