East Meets West 

Shakespeare Festival's Macbeth puts new spin on classic

Of all of Shakespeare's plays, only one carries the daunting misnomer of "cursed." So cursed, in fact, even the bravest of thespians won't utter its name while in a theater except during a performance.

But with their latest production, Idaho Shakespeare Festival seems to have not let any of that affect it. In fact, the company has created a blissfully engaging and imaginative interpretation of Macbeth, and one that Shakespeare aficionados and neophytes alike should not miss.

From acting and directing to set design and costuming, this is the complete package.

Director Charles Fee has taken the Scottish play out of Scotland, visually at least, and dropped into feudal Japan. The East-meets-West effect is strikingly effective and it doesn't take a great leap for audiences to accept the new feel of the classic play.

The entire creative team has risen to the occasion, creating a world that is as visually breathtaking as it is straightforward.

The set is both simple and modern. In black, white and red, the color palette of the production is as bold as the written material. Scenic designer Gage Williams built a web effect as a backdrop, with black strips of varying widths set off from a white background, creating beautiful geometric shapes that add drama whenever backlit. Massive metal cutouts—akin to stainless-steel leaves—hang in the center of the background and at each side of the stage.

What could be simple set dressings are instead key parts of the production. Taiko drummers are stationed at either end of the stage, providing a live soundtrack for the entire production. The musicians use the metal set pieces as giant cymbals in a perfect blend of form and function.

At center stage, a large raised circular platform, painted brilliant red is a clear nod to both the Asian inspiration of the production and the bloody nature of the play.

Costume designer Star Moxley's creations are rich and elegant, and play perfectly off the austere set. Scottish warriors have become samurai, dressed in black with delicate gold embroidery. All of the costumes stay in the established color palette, with the majority of the cast dressed in black, red and white. Every costume drips in details, including the flowing kimono-style robes worn by many.

True to Shakespeare's original, this is one bloody play, as actors tell the tale of one man's twisted quest for power. Upon hearing a prophecy from a trio of witches that he would soon be king, Macbeth, played by Dougfred Miller (stepping in for the injured Andrew May) hatches a plan to kill King Duncan, frame his guards and assume the throne for himself.

Helping ensure he follows through is his wife, the template for all social climbers with ruthless ambition—Lady Macbeth, played by Laura Perrotta.

As Macbeth, Miller demands attention, aptly displaying the character's drive and decent into madness. He's supported throughout by a strong cast, and the ensemble has a beautiful rhythm to watch.

One of the clear highlights of the performance is the trio of witches, or the weird sisters, played by Sara Bruner, Derrick Cobey and Alicia Kahn. Rather than the standard cackling hags they are traditionally portrayed as, Fee has made the sisters kabuki-style characters, whose physicality both enriches the theme and offers ample opportunities for strikingly beautiful visuals.

The trio is dressed in long, black flowing robes with whited-out faces and only minimal black accents to give them facial characteristics. In each hand, the three actors carry a cane, which is an extension of the sleeve of the costume. These canes allow the sisters to perform beautiful, elongated movement, sometimes moving like a crane and other times transforming into menacing overseers. The unique costumes also allow the trio to creating haunting geometric tableaus which are highlighted by the elegant lighting design.

The effect gives the witches a constant, overseeing presence throughout the story, as their prophecies begin to unfold to their ultimate, bloody conclusion.

The play is filled with action from beginning to end, and fight choreographer Ken Merckx has created a brutal dance the actors perform with samurai swords in hand. While many characters are hacked to death on stage, Fee achieves a visceral reaction from the audience without having to resort to sticky fake blood. Instead, blood is represented with long sashes of red fabric, pulled from freshly inflicted wounds and arced across the stage.

The overall effect is mesmerizing and a great example of what can happen when a classic is put in the hands of an artistic design team whose talents perfectly complement each other.

Macbeth runs through Aug. 29. Tickets are $21 to $38 for individuals. For more information, call 208-336-9221 or visit idahoshakespeare.org

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