REVIEW: Oakland University’s ‘Macbeth’ Delivers a Powerful Examination of the Carnage Caused by Desire and Deception

A little over five years ago I went to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada to see a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Once there I quickly learned through the grapevine that people either loved it or hated it; during some performances, people actually walked out. That is when it dawned on me there are two types of Shakespeare enthusiasts. First, the purists. Those who want only traditional costumes, settings, and no interpretation of the script. Second, are those who appreciate a modern approach and welcome a contemporary interpretation of the text. There is definitely an argument for both approaches. For this production of Macbeth, the Oakland University (OU) Department of Theatre has chosen the latter approach. In doing so the story has a fresh relevance amidst today’s political and cultural climate. And its bold proclamation is one we’d be wise to listen to.

Opening weekend for the show is sold out, but tickets still remain for the 8:00 p.m. performances on February 13, 14, and 15.

Under the direction of David Gram, this adaptation of Macbeth becomes a powerful piece of theatre, which as he says in his director’s note, “… asks us to contemplate power, borders, corruption and what happens when leaders put personal ambition ahead of tasked responsibility and station.” An assistant professor of theatre at OU, Gram chose to set the play “in an imagined 2023, where the United Kingdom is in disarray, countries have been betrayed and seceding is the only option for independence.” In short, very much along the lines of what is currently playing out with the departure of Britain from the European Union, aka Brexit.

Macbeth (Dryden Zurawski) shares a moment with Lady Macbeth (Lauren Goyer) in Oakland University’s new production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’

Photo credit: JLBoone Photography

From the moment you walk into the Varner Studio Theatre, the space grabs your attention right away. For such a small room, the stage design is massive and impressive. And in true OU form, every inch of space is exhausted in telling the story. With multiple entries and exit points, you never quite know where the action is coming from, so stay alert! You might also want to keep your arms and legs out of the aisles too. From there, the play kicks off with a powerful opening scene. Mayhem breaks out everywhere with shouts of “Scotland Forever!” and “Erin go Bragh” piercing the air. The whole scene is captivating to watch — very cinematic in its execution. Fight Director Anthony Guest, along with his Fight Captains Ryan Heath and Kerri Joann, deserve every bit of praise for choreographing and maintaining the integrity of all the intense fight scenes in such close quarters. Of course, the actors deserve equal praise for the execution of the maneuvers. Each fight scene is as fascinating as they are artistic.

One of the other elements of the show I enjoyed was the interaction between Hecate (Madelyn Kaplan), the Queen of the Witches and the three witches played by Haley Spencer, Mackenzie Grosse, and Kady Booth. These characters are often portrayed as either freaks or hags. In this production, I saw them more as powerful enchantresses who understand and own their influence. When they first appear to Banquo (Ian Krueger) and Macbeth (Dryden Zurawski) they both receive prophecies. Banquo is told he will be less than Macbeth, yet happier, less successful, yet more. The witches tell Macbeth that he will be “Thane of Cawdor” and eventually king, which of course to him is an absurd idea and he seems to rebuff their prediction. But when Ross (Gabrielle Keen) finds Macbeth and tells him of his new title, he begins to believe the prophecies the witches spoke of. This is the moment when we begin to see Macbeth start turning towards what will become a bloodthirsty campaign to become and remain king.

An unsuspecting Queen Duncan (Kelsi Fay) welcomes and lavishes praise on Macbeth for his victories and new title. He, in turn, tells his wife, Lady Macbeth (Lauren Faith Goyer) about the prophecies. She thinks he’d make an excellent king and coaxes him into killing Duncan that very night. The die is cast and there is no turning back. Power comes at a price and it’s often very steep as Macbeth and his wife find out.

Power comes at a cost in Oakland University’s new production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ L-R: Dryden Zurawski as Macbeth, Madelyn Kaplan as Hecate, and Lauren Goyer, as Lady Macbeth.

Photo credit: JLBoone Photography

Once the Queen’s murder is discovered, her heirs Malcolm (Connor Rajan) and Donalbain (Kyle Kiesler) fear for their lives and flee, leaving Macbeth to assume the throne as the new King of Scotland. But instead of finding peace in the fulfilled prophecy, Macbeth is driven into deep paranoia and madness. It is fascinating to watch Zurawski take the journey from humble war hero to vengeful king. It also speaks to his growth as an actor during his time at OU. Goyer also does an excellent job of showing a woman who gets everything she wants only to learn it’s not enough to soothe her conscience. One of the most intense scenes is the slaughter of Lady Macduff (Dy’Mon James) and her young son. It is a haunting reminder of how innocents can get swept up in a power struggle. Lady Macduff’s screams sliced through the silence in a way that made my heart drop. And while a theatre student could have played the Macduff’s son, it was much more effective and gut-wrenching that the role was played by the young Bryson Welch who alternates the role with Finn Francis. As you can imagine, the execution of her family doesn’t sit well with Macduff (Krissy Castellese) who vows revenge. The final battle scene between her and Macbeth is once again an impressive part of the show.

Sometimes Shakespeare’s works can seem a bit off-putting because of the language. After all, no one speaks like that anymore. But I encourage you to give this production of Macbeth a chance. There will always be those who put personal ambition above the greater good and we must never become complacent when it’s time to stand up for what is right and use our voice to implement change. This is why Shakespeare’s works have endured and this is why supporting those who continue to tell his stories is more important than ever.

This performance runs a little over two and a half hours with a 12-minute intermission.

Tickets for Macbeth are $15 for the general public and $8 for students. Tickets are also $8 during the 10 a.m. matinees. To purchase tickets, visit www.ETix.com.

Varner Studio Theatre is located in Varner Hall at 371 Varner Drive on the OU campus. For more information, contact the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at 248-370-2030 or smtd@oakland.edu.

Catch one of these remaining performances:

  • Thursday, February 13 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, February 14 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 15 at 8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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