A look into ‘Macbeth’ production
Ojai Art Center Theater's 'Macbeth' is smoothly running, vivid production
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Wickedness has been with humanity since the dawn of man and, in the long history of evil, few studies of it have been as diabolical and scouring as Shakespeare’s notorious political thriller, “Macbeth,” now playing at the Ojai Art Center.
Macbeth and his lady are the ultimate power couple, emblems of unchecked ambition, treason, madness and murder in this “tale of sound and fury” in mist-wraithed, supernaturally charged, 11th- century Scotland.The play opens on a storm-blasted heath with three witches — unearthly “midnight hags,” all “withered” and “wild,” recounting their vindictive and cruel actions since their last meeting, as they await the p rophesied arrival of Macbeth. Played with dizzying, hideous, gap-toothed malice by Anna Kotula, Denise Heller and Aaliyah Mora-Khan, the witches strike a bone-chilling note of malevolence right from the start.
In an inspired piece of casting, there also is a Wild Child, played like a hellion by Coree Kotula. Her gollum-like scampering and eerie curlew cries add a further other- worldliness to the scene.Macbeth and Banquo, fresh from defending King Duncan in battle, are re- pulsed by the “weird sisters,” asking them if they are human or spirits.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair” intone the witches indicating that in this play nothing will be as it seems and chaos will rule.
They tell Macbeth (Thane of Glamis) first that he will become Thane of Cawdor, and then “king hereafter.” They also tell Banquo that he will be father to a long line of future Scottish kings. The pair are confused but intrigued and when word reaches them that the king has indeed made Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, they start to believe there might be substance to the witches’ predictions. Once Lady Macbeth is informed, the sheer lust for power is dialed up and a bloody end seems both inevitable and unstoppable. A plan to kill the king starts to form.
Is Macbeth then a victim of the fates, doomed to be- come a murderer? Banquo’s ambition also is pricked by the prophesies but he doesn’t act on it.
Macbeth murders King Duncan of his own free will but, without the spurring wiles of his wife urging him to act like a man and pursue his ambition, he would “have been too full of the milk of human kindness” to become a murderer on his own.
Lady Macbeth, played with viperish, femme-fatale force by Jessi May Stevenson, is at the heart of the evil in the play. Stevenson, in a powerhouse of a performance, gives voice to a full-throated evil which is as unequivocal as it is bewitching. The transformation is mesmerizing as her devotion to her ambitious husband turns murderous and she invokes the spirits to fill her “from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.”
When Macbeth fails to kill Duncan she does it herself.
But the violence and horror of what she has done proves a devastating assault on her sanity and she soon starts to unravel. Once fiery, glitteringly intense, and ruthless, Stevenson portrays Lady Macbeth’s shocking disintegration with reeling, terrified vulnerability. Having given herself wholly over to evil she is utterly destroyed by it.Macbeth, however becomes a greater and greater monster, killing his best friend Banquo and attempting to kill his young son, Fleance (Taylor Wilson). He becomes king, as planned, but a tyrannical, hated one.
Ron Feltner, in the title role, gives us a first-rate window into the mental agonies of a murderer, the fear of discovery, the lethal compounding of the crime, the callousing of his humanity and his final descent into numb nihilism.
“Macbeth” has some of Shakespeare’s most gorgeous and well-known lines and, under acclaimed Shakespeare veteran, Michael Addison’s direction, Feltner masters the poetry of the language with a subtle musicality that enhances the meaning of the words without distracting or detracting from them. His physicality changes with his darkening deeds, his brow grows more hooded, and we begin to see what a man without a soul looks like.
The supporting cast in this play is outstanding. Nigel Chisholm gives his Banquo an upright, soldierly nobility and a careful watchfulness that Macbeth fears. Although his ambition is aroused by the witches, he is suspicious of their motives and is the first to suspect that Macbeth has “played most foully” for the crown. Macbeth murders him and the spectral menace Chisholm presents as a ghost unnerves Macbeth vividly and convincingly. Byron Hays, as Duncan’s son Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, is exiled to England during the turmoil. Not knowing whom he can trust any more, he tests Macduff’s (Richard Kuhlman) loyalty by pretending to be a dissolute, waste of space unfit for the throne of Scotland. That scene between the two is a mini-masterpiece in the hands of these two experienced actors.
Kuhlman, as Macduff, is the moral conscience of the play. He is a man of action but feels the horrors of his crumbling world keenly. When Macbeth has his family murdered he is almost lost to grief, but Malcolm, showing princely leadership, pulls him back to action.
Unfortunately, space prohibits mention of the many other accomplished performances in this production, but Addison’s cast is a polished, cohesive whole in sterling service to one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.
Note must be made of the lush period costumes, the deep, evocative, off-stage drum-beat punctuating moments of action and violence, and the truly extraordinary set. Addison and his production designers Kenny Dahle and Carol Shaw Sutton transport us back to the Dark Ages, with a set as raw and primitive as the emotions in the play. Great root-like tangles bring us down to a dark, netherworld of the mind where thoughts twist and decency is strangled.
The deliciousness of Shakespeare’s exquisite language set in such darkness and disorder is one of the most pleasurable tensions in the play and the cast preserves all the mysterious poetry and tonal variations of the script, to be found in the script, to be found in the very best “Macbeth” productions.
Ojai A.C.T.’s “Macbeth” is produced by Joan Kemper and Stewart Crowner working with resident artistic director Richard Camp, who has put together an exceptionally exciting season of theater.
Under Addison’s direction, and with that strange and remarkable set evoking mental torture and degraded humanity, this raging, breathtaking production focuses on the ruinous, psychological depths of the soul unhinged by power-lust.
To get a taster of the show, go to https://www. ojaiact.org to see the principal actors, and listen to Camp and Addison discussing the play on KZSB Arts Radio with Elizabeth Stewart.
Video by StephenAdamsPhoto.com
Whirling witches and bloody battles signal “Macbeth” is back on stage and ready to roil the theatrical waters.
Shakespeare’s tragedy at the Ojai Art Center Theater involves the work of many hands and hearts, beginning with director Michael Addison, who brings to the task a lifetime of theater experience both onstage and off. Presenters for the challenging project include the center’s artistic director Richard Camp and the Ojai Performing Arts Theater, with executive producer Joan Kemper and producer Stuart Crowner.
Ojai’s “Macbeth” is a smoothly running and vivid production in which characters come and go quickly on a set that creates an evocative environment well suited to the fast-paced action.
As the drama opens, the famed Three Witches stir the pot with ominous premonitions. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair. …” they warn, then return periodically until the stage has been covered with bodies of those Macbeth and Lady Macbeth considered obstacles to their grasp for total power in a land where swords hold sway.
The eerie witches (Anna Kotula, Denise Heller and Aaliyah Mora-Khan) are joined by 11-year-old Coree Kotula as a spirited and impressively agile Wild Child enhancing the mysterious scenes. She also appears briefly as the young son of the Scottish Macduff and Lady Macduff, among the various rivals for power the Macbeths dispose of along the way.
Ron Feltner as Macbeth, honored by the Scottish King Duncan for his prowess in battle, and Jessi May Stevenson as Lady Macbeth, who supports and prods her husband as he gradually embraces the concept that he should be the leader of Scotland, demonstrate how once the lust for power is stirred it often can’t be stopped.
True to Shakespeare’s concept, Macbeth is slowly drawn into the plotting, fueled by his wife’s more single-minded approach. For both, the more blood they spatter or coax others to spatter, the more powerful is the drive for the ultimate dominance of their country. Stevenson’s Lady Macbeth is fiercely drawn, more ferocious than most of the male warriors and vibrant until the trauma of constant battle and guilt drains her spirit.
Nigel Chisholm as Banquo, the man who was considered the logical person to pick up the role of leader after the king’s death, is one of the many brutally dispatched by the Macbeths and their followers. Other principal players include Daniel Ruark as King Duncan; Byron Hays and James Baker as his sons; and Richard Kuhlman and Jolene Rae Harrington as Macduff and Lady Macduff.
The cast of more than 20, some playing multiple roles, acquits itself well, whether portraying noble souls, villains or underlings.
One of the most familiar players, Bill Spellman as Macbeth’s attendant, adds to his list of amusingly bumbling characterizations, garnering giggles in the otherwise dark action.
Adding an ominous beat throughout the play is percussionist John Lacques, whose artful drumming provides a haunting reminder that evil is afoot.
Photo by Tom Moore
Rita Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.