- Macbethdir. by José Luis Valenzuela
Amid an otherwise dismal 2019 Oregon Shakespeare Festival season, José Luis Valenzuela's Macbethwas insightful and inventive. Though again this year forced out of the Elizabethan Theatre by smoke from forest fires, the company carried on and staged an especially memorable Macbeth.
Christopher Acebo replicated the front of the Elizabethan Theatre in the indoor Mountain Avenue Theatre: two levels, with curving stairways ascending to the upper level. Hecate occasionally appeared above, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth ascended the stairs to murder Duncan and the grooms. The Weird Sisters retreated to small entrances at stage left and right, as if hiding, and from there watched Macbeth and Lady Macbeth over whom they exercised considerable power.
As the Mountain Avenue Theatre is considerably smaller than the Elizabethan, the stage seemed increasingly claustrophobic and frightening as Macbeth's reign of terror engulfed women and children. The opening dumb show, the funeral of the Macbeths' child (yes, Lady Macbeth had given suck), began with the cast members as mourners—all in black except for three figures in white, who later emerged as the Weird Sisters—approaching the casket center stage from the aisles. Macbeth and Lady [End Page 591]Macbeth emerged with the casket from backstage, the same place from which Macbeth later emerged sitting naked in a bathtub-as-cauldron in 4.1 as the Sisters poured their poisonous concoction all over him. Also employed throughout the play were three large steel frames on wheels that the Sisters moved about the stage constantly, as if they were "framing" the characters and the action to their satanic designs. They often stood within these metal frames, peering intently at the characters yet invisible to them. Their most stunning use of these frames occurred as Lady Macbeth, furiously wringing her hands and wearing the immaculate white gown from her first entrance in 1.5, emerged from the back of the stage in 5.1. As if seeking to recapture a sense of innocence and purity beforethe murder of Duncan ("A little water clears us of this deed"), she had gone to her closet to fetch the white gown, sensing in her insanity that it was fitting for her final walk about the castle. The Weird Sisters aligned the frames from back to front of the stage, creating a steel corridor through which they marshaled her toward death and damnation. She hanged herself with a long rope dangling from the top of the stage by twisting her body so tightly into it that she could apparently suspend herself by her neck. It was as stunning an acrobatic movement on stage as I have ever seen.
The "Weird Sisters," or Witches as identified in the program, clearly represented a supernatural evil. They were on stage throughout the action, from attending the opening funeral to bearing witness to Macduff holding aloft Macbeth's severed head. They acted as stage hands, arranging the steel cages to accommodate the movements of characters as the action unfolded, and their constant presence strongly suggested a profound influence on the Macbeths. They constantly peered at the royal couple as they dove deeper into evil, and attended Macbeth during his soliloquies. Indeed, in 4.1 Danforth Comins's powerful Macbeth was almost reduced to a child taking his Saturday night bath as the Sisters hovered over his naked body, delighting in terrifying and humiliating him. While Valenzuela's staging here might have...