A chilling adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” set to open Thursday

Photo courtesy of Kennedy Warner '16 Dale Leonhart ’19, Amy Welch ’18, Rasa Davidson De Sa, and Laakan McHardy ’16 rehearse a scene together. 

Photo courtesy of Kennedy Warner '16

Dale Leonhart ’19, Amy Welch ’18, Rasa Davidson De Sa, and Laakan McHardy ’16 rehearse a scene together. 

BY EMILY BLOMQUIST '18 & LINDSEY MCGINNIS '18

The Mount Holyoke College Department of Theatre Arts’ production of Macbeth begins with a jarring cacophony of thunder and chilling witchy chants. The weird sisters, played by Amy Welch ’18, Dale Leonheart ’19 and Rasa Davidson De Sa, are impressive in their outstanding execution of a well-worn set of characters.

In this production, the witches crawl around the stage, often in perfect unison, in thin reddish dresses that cling to their skin. The women were virtually indistinguishable from one another, with a pale half mask obscuring the upper half of their faces. Each witch wore a long burgundy wig and a crown of ribs interspersed with glowing red lights. “Everyone said we had chemistry .... She [the director] just put us in a room and was like ‘Just drum and dance around and do body things’ and we .... just like showed her what we came up with and she picked what looked good,” said Welch.

Most people know what to expect from the weird sisters. Lines like “Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air,” are well known to even casual Shakespeare fans. But Welch, Leonheart, and Davidson De Sa use every non-speaking moment to embody the malicious sisters. They make strange noises, shift back and forth on their heels, and lean toward Macbeth (played by Laakan McHardy ’16) or Banquo (played by Kate Collier ’18). “If you don’t have nightmares tonight we didn’t do our job,” said Davidson De Sa.

Despite this strong start, Act I drags in the middle. Many of the scenes are low on action, and only feature a couple of characters at a time.

The stage, which is a series of steps and platforms that emulate a pale grey wood sparsely adorned with dry leaves and branches around the edges. This set often looks barren during the first act. Killer sound effects are strategically employed to maintain a sense of drama in these slower scenes.

McHardy as Macbeth was a solid cast. She delivers her lines with almost flawless precision, and uses subtle body language to convey Macbeth’s anxieties. McHardy performs several monologues downstage, only a few feet from the audience.

Unfortunately, the villainization of Macbeth comes off a bit rushed. When McHardy pulls the metaphorical mask down her face after first encountering the witches, Macbeth becomes a corrupted figure. By not allowing McHardy to develop Macbeth as loyal general before ambition consumes him, an important struggle is neglected.

Despite strong performances by both actors, the chemistry between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth — played by Hampshire College senior Ginny Chesson — occasionally falls flat. They’re at their best when they fight. The moments of high tension, like when Macbeth fails to discard the bloody daggers, play well to each actor’s strengths.

After the death of King Duncan, the act picks up speed. Actors fill the stage, reacting to his offstage corpse and those of the murdered guards. Lady Macbeth, in her red dressing gown, stands on the third platform, above the throng of visitors interacting on the main stage. Macbeth stands on the lowest platform, facing the audience. It’s a lovely moment of strategic staging that brings the stage to life. Suddenly, the minimalist set is used to it’s full potential.

Banquo’s death follows Duncan’s, in a thrilling and masterfully choreographed battle between Macbeth’s former friend and the three mercenaries, who treacherously creep out from the shadows of the stage.

In Act II, the actors really hit their stride. Riddled with murder, chaos, and Lady Macbeth’s gradual descent into madness, the show’s second half is sure to keep audience members at the edge of their seats.

Director Jenny Daniels’ ’16 rendition of Macbeth is set in the traditional Shakespearean time period (16th century Scotland). However, many of the costumes had a modern edge. In some scenes the cast strutted across the stage in black leather jackets and rider boots, while in other scenes they dressed in their finest bedazzled formalwear. Costume designer Elaine Bergeron manages to successfully marry traditional and modern costumery in a cohesive way.

The show is also particularly graphic. The Mount Holyoke College Department of Theatre Arts recommends that children under 13 not attend the show, which has copious amounts of fake blood, violence and strobe lights. Most of the on-stage violence is obscured by low lighting and strategic blocking. In other scenes, little is left to the imagination — like when the mercenaries murder Macduff’s (Julia Spector ’16) baby or when Macduff presents the audience with Macbeth’s decapitated head.

The show runs from Thursday, April 14 to Sunday, April 17 at the Rooke Theater. “Join us for a harrowing, all-female retelling of Macbeth,” says the event Facebook page. “It’ll be a scream.”

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