TheMASSIVE’s Macbeth: As the Dust Settles places the tragedy in the devastated and barren American Dust Bowl. As director and TheMASSIVE’s Executive Artistic Director Kyle Vincent Terry writes in his Director’s Note, “In feudal Scotland, the push was for control of land, as land is power. But, what denotes power when the land is barren?” Quite a question, I thought, piqued by how this production would use Macbeth to provoke ideas about mankind’s lust for power, even when there is little to behold.
The characterization of the Weird Sisters is something I often look forward to when sitting down to Macbeth, and TheMASSIVE’s ghoulish ladies (Alain Sharp, Grace Desant, Jennifer Becker, Jenny Maceika, Kate Puckett and Katie Burrows) are intrusively eerie and alluring. The 7 raven-haired “Ghost Dancers” - all near the same height, their skin the same pallid tone - shriek like banshees in a tribal keening over their lost men, and then cackle and hiss as they deliver their notorious prophesy for Macbeth. The Ghost Dancers quickly establish themselves as a catalyst for the misery and destruction of those vying for power.
Enter Macbeth (Shawn Wilson), a Yukon Cornelius type who doesn’t seem to want to hurt a fly, but an Everyman who just wants to get home after a long day of work for a shot of whiskey, chunk of brisket and to listen to his stories on a transistor radio. Baffled by his foretold greatness, he approaches the well-to-do, magnanimous Duncan (Kyle Vincent Terry) with a kind of cautious reverence, aware of what malicious deeds he must achieve to fulfill his destiny. Duncan’s wealth and status in Scott City - coveted by all and the lynchpin for Macbeth and his Lady’s ambitions - is left undefined and vague, as we are not in Scotland fighting over reign, but in Scott City, Kansas in the 1930’s Dust Bowl. Still, our suspension of disbelief allows us to feel the tension, especially with Aila Peck as the relentlessly venomous Lady Macbeth, her style and demeanor capturing both the 1930s era as well as the classic Lady-Macbeth-spiral-into-insanity we all anxiously await.
As stated in his director’s note, Kyle Vincent Terry seeks to explore how “abject poverty often leads to the proliferation of two things, crime and religion” - and his re-imagining of Macbeth certainly strikes those two chords. Throughout the play, Hecate (Raquel Adorno) saunters about, raising her Bible, singing melancholic hymns, her gutteral voice harkening us back to sinister revivalist religion. Pair that with the grainy sound of body after body dragged along a dirt-covered stage and you got yourself some real ambiance. Replacing bloodshed with mud and sand, Terry makes visceral the foul filth of corruption in a desperate futile town.
True to Shakespearean form, things get wild in Act III. When Macbeth meets up to conspire against Banquo (Niall McGinty) - we see the ginger-bearded, bald-headed Yukon Cornelius suddenly turn into Walter White, Season 3 of Breaking Bad - the mad, tortured criminal with everything at stake. Naturally, I started to view the rest of the performance through this lense, particularly the legendary banquet scene when Banquo’s ghost rises and Lady Macbeth/Skylar White struggles to contain her deranged husband. The second half of the performance is riddled with rich moments - Lady Macduff (Mary-Kate Arnold) struggling for her life against the stoic-yet-vicious Lennox (David Russell), Malcom (Michael Allen Harris) conspiring with Macduff (Michael Jay Bullaro) - both with such casual, conversational Shakespearean delivery, while a co-conspirator sits alongside peeling a hard-boiled egg and belching. And of course, the climactic riling up of the whole gang to raise hell against Macbeth and reclaim Malcom’s reign.
I left the theatre tossing over all sorts of questions, and wishing TheMASSIVE had fleshed out the 1930’s Dust Bowl context to connect and supplement the traditional text, as the clamoring for power, security and right to live resounds tremendously from that era. Far from a Shakespeare purist, I am intrigued when theatre companies such as TheMASSIVE transpose his plays to resonate with modern audiences, and I look forward to seeing more bold choices from this innovative company.