'Macbeth' delivers a Roundhouse punch

June 22, 2011

It’s a leap from Point Break Live!, a stage version of the 1991 extreme-sports action film about FBI agents and surfers, to Shakespeare. But actors Cody Evans and Derek Elstro, who’d performed in the long-running PBL! at New Rock Theater, made that leap—and landed in an astonishing new Macbeth. And a new company, Roundhouse Productions. 

“It was Cody’s idea to launch their new company with me directing Shakespeare,” says freelance director Mary Reynard Liss. “I came up with Macbeth because I knew the company was young and I thought it would be a challenge to these young men, to do the combat.” Now nearing the end of the run, it plays only through the weekend. (Next up, in mid-July, is Predator the Musical!) 

This Macbeth boasts several unusual features: a cast of 35, including ten “combat witches” as well as the three regular ones, and video projections with mythic overtones. “Shakespeare always used the latest technology, which in his day was trap doors and flying rigs,” Liss says. “I wanted to bring something new, but I’m pretty much a purist. I’m not one to say, ‘Let’s do Macbeth with squirt guns!’ So I asked myself what Shakespeare would approve of.” She decided to represent Macbeth’s hallucinations, among other things, using green-screen technology to provide surreal backgrounds.

Liss also decided to mount the opening battle, described in the text but which she’d never seen staged. “I wanted to cast enough men for that, and then I wanted to have a very powerful female force, female energy, even though it’s thwarted by the warrior society. So that hatched the idea of having a whole coven of witches”—who are “projections of the men’s consciousness,” says Jungian Liss, and govern the action. 

“Then I thought, why not have the swords in the hands of the witches, controlling the warriors?” says Liss. “The witches are manifesting the violence, and the warriors are acting it out for them.” Whether you buy the Jungian angle or not, it’s weirdly thrilling to watch the male actors swinging away with invisible swords while the women, on raised platforms, wield the actual weapons. 

Another strong feature: the blazing chemistry between Macbeth and his manipulative wife. Lana Smithner, 23, is utterly convincing as a potent vamp, then as a despairing otherworldly presence, the ghost of her former self. “Lana is a wonderful, wonderful actress,” says Liss. “Her level of commitment is what a director prays for. You give her the ball, and she’ll score a touchdown every time.” 

Liss also praises John Tyberghein as Macbeth. “I cast a very gentle man with a nobility about him, because I’d seen so many Macbeths who were really all the same: they all came on with a kind of masculine brutality from the beginning. I wanted to show the downfall of a good man. So there’s the irony of a good man rising to the occasion in battle with the Norwegian army, doing what seems right in the moment for himself and his country, who also acquaints himself with an impulse so full of rage it opens the door to other dark impulses.” 

“The archetype of Macbeth in the world today is not a distant archetype—it’s next door,” says Liss. “We meet Macbeth all over the place.”