Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
Graffiti is everywhere in the cavernous ruin, including two new, large painted murals of the play's stars, who also direct this show for Rebel & Misfits Productions. Long before the murals, though, the middle of the sanctuary was given over to a skateboarding rink, with big "U" shaped ramps, presenting intense acoustical problems for some of the actors. On the other hand, if you know the play, or if you know Shakespeare's tendency to say the same thing two or three different ways in the same speech, you'll be fine, even in the muddling echo chamber between the skateboard ramps.
To my surprise, Macbeth: Come Like Shadows is also more psychologically immersive than usual. You just have to be willing to "take the plunge." Early on, a handful of us leaned in to overhear a hushed conversation on Lady Macbeth's red satin bed, now situated on that ruined Catholic altar. It's a tour de force of sacrilege and voyeurism.
It's also where we learn that Macbeth's wife (the splendid Kelly Hummert) is heartbroken because of a recent miscarriage; and she fears she will never bear him children (she's also worried because, as the script tells us, she hasn't heard from him in three days). So, while she cannot give him sons, it is impliedthough not statedthat this Lady Macbeth will show her love by gently pushing the Scottish hero to the throne.
Sean Patrick Higgins is Macbeth, hawk-like and fierce, and he and Ms. Hummert share directorial credits. There is a languid, sensual tone to their production, like the mist in the air. But it is impossible to slow the famous, driving action of the original script.
It all flies by on the strength of some of our finest actors, and Lady Macbeth's look of emotional fulfillment and relief at the coronation scene is profound. It could be her own wedding ceremony, given the obvious completion of her joy. But if you aren't up there on that ruined altar before it all begins, "immersing" yourself by literally bending inside the space of her four-poster bed, you might not pick up on any of that new meaning, and how the coming bloodbath is hoped to mend a marriage.
Ms. Hummert's new layer of meaning takes nothing away from Mr. Higgins, it's just impossible to tell where Shakespeare's flair for dramatic propulsion gives way to his own. He is flanked by outstanding young actors, including Spencer Sickmann as Macduff, and Shane Signorino as Banquo, both powerful and dramatic, with Paul Cereghino as a lighthearted but introspective Malcolm, and Phil Leveling as Caithness (and the Doctor). Mr. Leveling has a voice born for large church spaces but, at least twice, Mr. Cereghino gets trapped in those skateboard "U" ramps, under that tall cathedral ceiling, and in those moments the acoustics paradoxically rob this super-intelligent actor of all meaning. But we are lucky enough later to be hied away to hear a very good, intimate speech from this Malcolm, about being tempted back to Scotland by the usurper royals. So, in the great measuring of artistic contributions, it all evens out.
You do get marched around like refugees, albeit refugees with access to a cash bar. We follow the action, going back and forth from one end of the spectacularly lit sanctuary to the other, and some of us go down steep old wooden stairs again, halfway through. (There are assistants if you need an easier path.) But back to our story: King Duncan, played by the otherwise charming Jeff Cummings, is described as a harsh and repressive ruler. And when we first come in, by his command, we are lightly searched by guards, and stamped and photographed upon entry into the building. Later, the king meets with a bad end, of course; and not long afterward, the famed "Porter's speech" is cut, with a handful of remaining lines going to Mr. Cereghino. (The witches don't get a lot of fanfare in this version, either, but Patrice Foster, Hailey Medrano, and Aarya Sara Locker are each very strong as ladies and soldiers in in the cast.)
Much nearer to the end of the show, the audience is loudly ordered to line up into groups, in keeping with the modern taste for authoritarianism. But, at the performance I attended, where one group went downstairs to hear Malcolm's modern poetic monologue "in England," others reportedly witnessed a mock waterboarding upstairs. During all of that, hideous screams were heard, echoing through the great stomping church building.
I'm kind of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to audience participation. And, two years ago, when the same group staged an immersive Hamlet, I was initially filled with hopeless dread at being engaged by actors in costume when I wanted to keep to myself. And the same thing happened here. But in both cases, it turned out be a marvelous time.
Macbeth: Come Like Shadows, through November 10, 2018. For reservations, parking, and pick-up information, visit www.rebelandmisfitsproductions.com.