Macbeth by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, 13 February- 1 November 2009

 Geoff Ridden
Southern Oregon University

Geoff Ridden. "Review of Macbeth by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, 13 February- 1 November 2009." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10) <URL:>. 

Directed by Gale Edwards, Assistant Directors Shana Cooper and Linda Alper, Scenic Design by Scott Bradley, Costume Design by Murrell Horton, Lighting Design by Mark McCullough, Composer and sound designer Todd Barton, Dramaturg Lue Morgan Douthit, Voice and Text Director Bonnie Raphael, Fight Director U Jonathan Toppo, Stage Manager Gwen Turos, Production Assistant Alena Fast, Casting Consultants Nicole Arbusto and Joy Dickson

With Peter Macon (Macbeth), Robin Goodrin  Nordli (Lady Macbeth), Kevin Kenerly (Macduff), Rex Young (Banquo), Josiah Phillips (Porter/Doctor), Jeany Park (Lady Macduff), Robyn Rodriguez (First Witch), Perry Gaffney (Second Witch), K T Vogt (Third Witch), James J Peck (Duncan/First Murderer), U Jonathan Toppo (Lenox), Christopher Michael Rivera (Rosse), René Millan (Angus), Jeremy Peter Johnson (Malcolm), B Trevor Hill (Donalbain/Second Murderer), Samuel D Dinkowitz (Seyton), Nikolas Horaites (Fleance), Krystel Lucas (Gentlewoman),  Rachel Kaiser and June Thomquist (First Young Witch/Macduff’s Daughter), Lydia McKee and Dominque Moore (Second Young Witch), Lindsey Crocker and Anne Skinner (Third Young Witch)

  1. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 production of Macbeth was part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, an initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest.  Appropriately enough, on the night I saw the play, the audience included a party of high-school students, who were most attentive and made some perceptive observations about what they had seen.

  2. This was an indoor production, with a single set throughout: a bare stage in the centre of the lower level, with some Stonehenge-size rocks at the rear and a bas-relief of a battlefield at the front of the stage, complete with bodies and a pool. There was a staircase on stage left which became a ramp across the entire stage to stage-right, completing a set that was flexible enough to require no scene changes and barely a pause in the action. This allowed for fluid action and a brisk pace (the running time was little more than two hours, including the intermission), which was in danger at times of becoming hectic. Only one scene was cut entirely: III.v (Hecate’s long speech to the witches and song).

  3. If the set gave no clue as to the period in which this play was set, the costumes and props furnished no greater help. We had soldiers as guerillas, and Macbeth sometimes in a modern suit, but the guerrillas carried swords, royalty also wore antique ceremonial robes, and all the night attire was from an earlier time. To add to this eclecticism, Macduff’s castle seemed to be fire-bombed.

  4. A reading of the cast list above will immediately make clear some of this production’s distinguishing features. There is, for instance,  a doubling of the roles of the Porter and the Doctor, and of Duncan and the First Murderer. Moreover, several characters usually found in the play are missing: there are fewer  lords, there is no Sergeant, no Hecate, and a number of other smaller roles are also taken out.  The decision to curtail the number of roles meant that the Sergeant’s speech in I.ii was given to Macduff, and that worked well, establishing him early on as a brave warrior. Doubling Duncan with a murderer created an implication that Duncan might have been as culpable as Macbeth himself . A more substantial editing gave Seward a more significant role than is usual, and allowed him to assume the part of the Third Murderer, underlining the lack of trust which Macbeth shows in his henchmen. This sense of insecurity pervaded the first half of the play: ‘Who comes here’ (I.ii.45) was accompanied by the drawing of swords, and all the men who were roused from their sleep in II.iii, after the discovery of the murder of Duncan, came on with swords at the ready. 

  5. The witches were used as a framing device: at the beginning they watched Macbeth and the other soldiers in battle, and at the end they watched the announcement by Malcolm of his imminent coronation, while their gaze (and the spotlight) focused on Fleance. A programme note alerted us to the fact that some treachery by Fleance needs to follow the play if the prediction of the witches is to come true and Banquo’s issue is to succeed to the throne: a parallel idea comes in the Polanski film version of Macbeth, which ends with Donalbain visiting the witches.

  6. The production included young witches as well as their older counterparts: these girls presented daggers to Macbeth in II.i and led on the mad Lady Macbeth in V.i. This idea worked so very well that I wondered why these witches did not also lead on the murdered Banquo in III.v.

  7. I believe that Peter Macon, who played Macbeth, is a more than competent actor, and there were glimpses of his ability in the second half, but he did not seem at home in this role, and this was unfortunate in a production so rich in ideas, and which included some fine performances.  My view of the career of Macbeth is a simple one: I am looking for a man who is initially honorable, then undecided as to whether to help the witches’ prediction come true and needing the persuasion of his wife. I saw none of that career in this production, and perhaps the director has a different view from mine. Shakespeare does not, after all, show us Macbeth in battle at the beginning of the play, whereas this production starts with Macbeth the butcher, killing a man onstage and this, coupled with the doubling of Duncan with a Murderer, gave the sense that there was nobody in this society who was free from the taint of violence: no milk of human kindness here.

  8. Even allowing for such a radically different interpretation of Macbeth, it was hard to understand the way his relationship with his wife was played out. After some initial physical and sensual caressing of Lady Macbeth, this Macbeth scarcely looked at his wife (or anyone else), and his whole role seemed to be as internalised as a monologue. He galloped through the lines with such rapidity that it was a relief to come to the Porter, who took his speech slowly and spoke as if the words were coming to his mind for the first time (although I cannot see why there was a recording of the knocking at the gates, enhanced so as to sound supernatural: this is surely a real commotion?).

  9. I was not convinced that Macon had fully understood all the lines. When Macbeth says ‘I think not of them’ (II.i.21) and ‘Thou canst not say I did it’ (II.iv.50), the emphasis surely has to be on ‘I’, and it was not in either case. He also had a tendency to make his lines anticipate his deeds – for example, there was no sense of surprise or of horror that a dagger should appear before him: this was just II.i, and that was when the daggers came on, wasn’t it ? Unfortunately this tendency affected the rest of the cast at times, such as when, in V.v, Seyton helpfully threw his neck on Macbeth’s hand to make his throttling all the easier.  That apart, Samuel D Dinkowitz was excellent in the role.

  10. The intermission came after III.iv, and the second half of this production was very much better than the first: it became Macduff’s play rather than Macbeth’s and was all the better for that. I took far less notes during the second half than I had in the first half, because the play really took off, notably in a fine scene between Malcolm and Macduff (IV.iii) in which I believed that persuasion really had taken place: this served only to underline what the opening scenes might have been. Both Jeremy Peter Johnson and Kevin Kenerly were outstanding.

  11. Robin Goodrin Nordli was wonderful as Lady Macbeth: her ‘We fail?’ in I.vii was as incredulous a cry as you will ever hear, and there was an inventive piece of business in II.iii when, after the announcement of Duncan’s death, Lady Macduff and the Gentlewoman both fall prostrate: Lady Macbeth is not to be upstaged, and, after a quick double-take, she swoons too, very noisily. This actor was so in control of her performance that it was disappointing that she was not entrusted to carry off the mad scene herself in V.i, without the need for mad lighting, mad costume and mad make-up.

  12. The second half was also the place for special effects. The apparitions in IV.i arose eerily out of the witches cauldron, and the fight between Macbeth and Macduff took place onstage - including the beheading – but, again, I wondered whether this latter decision, although a bold one, foregrounded the effect rather more than was necessary. It would be a pity if the audience left the theatre musing more on how the false head had been smuggled on to the stage than on the words they had heard.


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