Dowling resurrects a classic tragedy

Kathleen Ambre

Assailed by the chaos of battle–rappelling rapiers, eruptions of gunfire, knives drawn–the impassioned opening act of the Guthrie’s latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth promptly establishes a savage, relentless tone.

Celebrated as the fiftieth Shakespearean work to be staged at the Guthrie Theatre, Macbeth unveils the chilling repercussions of moral corruption. Some may cringe and recoil from a severe, anything-but-sugarcoated retelling––the production even carrying a graphic violence warning–but, nonetheless, the rousing intensity makes for a frightening yet exhilarating performance.

Set in war-torn Scotland, Macbeth trails it’s titled character in his digression from virtue. A once heroic, righteous soldier marked by benevolent nobility is undermined by his own bloody ambitions. Told by the three weird sisters (Barbara Bryne, Isabell Monk O’Connor, and Suzanne Warmanen) that he will one day be king, their prophecy compels a bloodthirsty mentality in Lady Macbeth (Michelle O’Neill) and Macbeth himself (Erik Heger).

Lady Macbeth, immediately identified as a dominant figure lusting for power, casts aside all moral inhibitions to fulfill the prophecy, inevitably convincing her husband to follow her treacherous example.

But even with the affairs to follow–the murder of the king, a fabricated mask of innocence, the long-awaited decree of the “new” successor–threats to Macbeth’s throne, real and imagined, repress any remnants of sanity. Struggling to maintain dominion over a languishing nation and control over their deteriorating mental states, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth grapple and brawl with their own consciences in attempt to repudiate the confessions of guilt that surface.

Proving to be a somewhat becoming tragedy, in which accumulating atrocities propagate an imminent doom, director Joe Dowling maintains an unwavering intensity throughout. Aside from the plot’s assembly in the first act, the play achieves a captivating momentum continuously propelling toward the climax.

As Macbeth, Erik Heger exceeds expectations, particularly as his character wrestles with the subject of morality preceding his first sinuous act. While the audience is knowledgeable of the outcome of Macbeth’s self-contending soliloquy, Heger conveys an inner turmoil so genuine one can’t help hoping he might change his mind. However, on the hinge of optimism and doubt, it becomes evident that Macbeth’s fall from nobility is inevitable and vice’s victory over virtue secure. Consequently, Macbeth’s sanity erodes into a deranged paranoia all for the moral and mortal cost of power.

However, were it not for Lady Macbeth’s infamous strokes of influence, Macbeth might have remained one of the king’s many loyal guardians. Striking and succeeding with frightening intensity, Michelle O’Neill contradicts any previous stereotypical, Shakespearean caricature with a very original and impassioned performance of her own. Ruthless passion rooted in delusional rationalization, all for the sake of sweet supremacy, she reiterates “what’s done cannot be undone;” as if murder were a mere inconvenience in the pursuit of career advancement as opposed to an unforgivable transgression.

Although presented without intermission, the ominous and haunting resonance of this production is timeless.Heinous crimes, startling confessions and, of course, verbal mastery, all embody Macbeth’s headlong race toward destruction. Illustrating the horrors of ambition and nihilistic falls from grace, this production–despite countless performances–has not wavered in intensity nor lost its power to entertain.