Sunday February 25th 2018

“Macbeth” reviewed by Jacob Davis

Highly Recommended **** Given the inherent risk of outdoor theatre in Illinois, it is very important for the Oak Park Festival Theatre to pick plays that really benefit from an under-the-stars performance. They’ve picked wisely with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This famous play’s eerie, diabolical tone is strongest in its night-time scenes, and in the production directed by Barbara Zahora, the striking effect of those sequences makes the whole endeavor uniquely memorable.

Two things are quickly evident once the action begins. One is that Zahora has cut very little from the script, which is Shakespeare’s shortest and believed by scholars to have been heavily edited by his company. Zahora has staged the inciting battle between Macbeth and a rebel who has “the multiplying villainies of nature” swarming on him while the incident is described by other characters, keeping our attention focused on this foreshadowing of Macbeth’s own fate. The other thing is that Macbeth, as interpreted by Matthew Fahey, is a man who takes calculated risks, but always looks to his own security and advantage. (Interestingly, he uses a pole weapon and dagger combo instead of a sword.) Audiences this season are particularly primed now to hear his line “I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people.” Fahey just lets that be what it is, but it’s clearer to observers now how the seeds of what Macbeth becomes were there from the beginning.

Melanie Keller’s Lady Macbeth is very Greek. The costume Hailey Rakowiecki designed for her first scene looks like it came from the Oresteia, and her voice has the quality of that kind of performance. She sells it convincingly and is assisted by Zahora’s decision to have the witches (Elyse Dawson, Savanna Rae, and Mark Lancaster) influencing Lady Macbeth, as well, by infiltrating her household and impersonating her servants. It’s very clever how Zahora found textual basis for this and the witches’ other appearances throughout the show, which add a palpable sense of menace to them, despite how Renfield-esque they can get. The supernatural certainly has a very heavy hand in this tragedy, and yet, the Macbeths seem more like tools than victims of it.

Still, the productions really comes into its own during the scene in which Macbeth murders the kindly King Duncan (Jack Hickey) offstage. When the owl screech sound effect actually frightens the birds out of the trees in the park, we’ve been transported to this nightmarish Scotland for the remainder of the show. The forces of good are there, of course; Christopher W. Jones does solid work as the noble, if myopic, Macduff, as does Bryan Wakefield as the suspicious, but passive, Banquo. But the witches and their demonic higher-ups are so active in this production that the victory can’t really be said to belong to the good guys. The atmosphere, on the other hand, triumphs.

“Macbeth” will continue at Oak Park Festival Theatre located in Austin Gardens, 167 Forest Ave, Oak Park, Illinois, thru July 22, with performances as follows:

Wednesday (July 19 only)            8:00 pm

Thursdays           8:00 pm

Fridays                  8:00 pm

Saturdays            8:00 pm

Sundays               7:00 pm

Tickets are $30, with discounts for seniors and students and free admission for children under 12. To order, visit OakParkFestival.com or call 708-445-4440.

Street parking is free.

Running time is two and a half hours with one intermission.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Macbeth.”

 

Editors note: This is a quaint little park in Downtown Oak Park, just a walk away from food and refreshment, which you can bring into the park. Brink a chair, bring a blanket or rent a chair. Whatever turns you on, but understand this trip to the country is only 25 minutes from Chicago’s “loop”

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