Picture this: The dark and bloody secrets of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, played out on SF Shakes’ black and bloody mobile stage (as mobile as the trees of Birnam Wood), on a brilliant sunny day on the green lawn of the Presidio’s Parade Ground. It takes some impassioned–dare I say demented–acting to make this nightmarish tragedy come to life. Emily Jordan (Lady MacBeth) and Michael Ray Wisely (MacBeth) pull it off.
The play is built upon the descent these two main characters into the deep well of guilt from which there is no escape. The other characters, well played , provide the scaffolding on which the plot is built: the wars of the Scottish thanes, the eerie prophecies of the three witches MacBeth’s murder of the old king Duncan, his betrayal and murder of Banquo. One horror builds on another, at Lady MacBeth’s instigation as she browbeats her weaker husband into fulfilling her own lust for power.
Jordan’s performance is really quite remarkable. She paces the stage, enticing the audience (seated on the sunny lawn) into her own peculiar world-view, how the murder of the old king is just and necessary. Once we are convinced, she wheedles and cajoles her spineless husband until he breaks and does the dreadful deed. From the moment he emerges with bloodstained hands, the three witches watching silently from above, the stage is ever more awash. Ghosts walk among them, and among us.
She is very well matched by Michael Ray Wisely’s powerful performance as the warlord MacBeth, who gradually comes to realize that it is his wife who has betrayed him into this meaningless act of violence, and the ever-deepening pit into which it has led him. Most of the blood is shed offstage, but the (simulated) murder of an infant on the stage in front of us made me shudder and jump.
These two powerful characters rely on the yeoman performances of the rest of the cast, to flesh out the rest of the story, and to give meaning to it all. The stage is simple and spare, black and red, with sliding doors that open and close like the gates to a prison. A fleet of plain black chairs make banquet halls and bedrooms. To the right, a forest of blood-red columns hint at forests and dungeons.
The tragedy, and the nightmare, bloom in the tortured minds of the Lord and Lady, but they will stay with you a long time. Free outdoor performances, through September 22, last performances at McLaren Park (see SF Shakespeare website for details)
Website: SF Shakes MacBeth
Telephone: (415) 558-0888