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Hold Thy Peace’s ‘Macbeth’ delivers classic tale of ambition and madness

Published: November 3, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.


Thursday in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater, Brandeis’s Shakespearean society, Hold Thy Peace, performed “Macbeth.” Written by William Shakespeare, directed in this incarnation by David Benger ’14 and produced by Ben Federlin ’14, “Macbeth” tells a tale of ambition gone wrong, and the betrayals, murders and miscellaneous horrors that ensue.

A Shakespearean classic, “Macbeth” chronicles Scottish military captain Macbeth’s (Yoni Bronstein ’13) efforts to seize the throne after three witches (Julia Davidowitz ’15, Arielle Keller ’16 and Barbara Spidle ’16) prophesied that he would eventually be proclaimed king. Later, his wife Lady Macbeth (Caitlin Partridge ’13) prompts him to murder King Duncan (Brian Dorfman ’16) and ensure his new reign. The witches also prophesied his demise, citing his perish only by the hand of a man “not of woman born,” and the event that the Birnam Wood marches on his castle.

One of the most beloved aspects of Shakespeare’s works is the malleability and timelessness of their settings, and the fact that most shows can be portrayed in any time period without losing their meaning. “Macbeth” is no exception, and this production was apparently set in the era of World War II. Swords were as prominently displayed as pistols, and the characters’ costumes comprised of brown, olive-green and black trench coats and uniforms, bringing to mind a more modern, camouflage-driven sense of dress.

The production’s technical aspects were well-developed and definitely enhanced the experience. The haunting melodies played during the scene changes, coupled by the utter blackouts that took place, enhanced the show’s already eerie feel and left the audience with a profound sense of “wrongness” in Macbeth’s actions. The witches performed many of their chants in song, which were arranged by Abigail Clarke ’13. The set kept with the show’s WWII-esque theme, and comprised of camouflage netting that covered the front of the stage and certain other set pieces, as well as a lavish castle setting for the scenes at court. There were a few technical hiccups, such as a banner that twisted over itself and the early onset of lights during a scene change, but they did not truly detract from the show.

In the lead roles, Bronstein and Partridge played off of each other brilliantly. During the first act, Macbeth demonstrated a mixture of bold action and panicked uncertainty as he wrestled with the notion of killing Duncan. During this, Lady Macbeth takes advantage of her husband’s uncertainty, and goads him into the murder. Afterward, she delivered an impassioned speech in which she bade him to wash the blood off his hands, and feign his innocence to avoid being caught. Once Macbeth is king, she defends his fits of guilt-driven madness, which extract a visible toll on her. Partridge portrays this marvelously, as Lady Macbeth loses some of her fiery passion in exchange for a scared, guilt-ravaged mentality as Macbeth’s madness grows; Lady Macbeth’s eventual descent into madness is severely unsettling, as the famous “out, damn spot” frightens the audience. Bronstein ’13 portrayed Macbeth’s increasing madness by becoming more and more eccentric, as the mere appearance of a person could send him into an angry rage. This continued throughout the show’s entirety, and even at the final confrontation, Macbeth remains the defiant, twisted man the audience watched him become.

Not all of the characterizations, however, were spot-on. One of the few roles that could’ve used some improvement was Macduff (Stephen Badras ’13). While Badras did a fine job portraying the stoic and honorable Macduff, overall, the scenes where he was injured felt a bit over-acted, as it is tough to imagine a wounded man throwing himself across the stage with the zeal Badras exhibited. This is a small issue, however, with an overall well-acted role.

The passion that the actors, technical and production staff put into the show was highly evident. The actors very rarely seemed unfocused within a scene and were so committed to their roles that it truly felt as if the audience was right alongside Macbeth, watching him spiral downward into chaos. Benger’s directorial notes to the audience also reflected this, in which he said the cast had “a diversity of strengths,” praising their ability to “bring these complex, slippery characters to life.”

“Macbeth” delivers a classic tale through a re-imagined setting and highly impressive character portrayals. Any fan of Shakespeare should see it this weekend.