Radford University provided the New River Valley with a grand gift of Shakespeare last week, very near to his birthday (and death anniversary) on April 23. In every way, the RU Theatre Department outdid itself with its excellent presentation of “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
Macbeth has a little of everything. It is, indeed, a tragedy for many: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, most of the MacDuffs, Duncan—so many characters that get caught up in Macbeth’s ambition to become king, goaded on by his manipulative wife and the prophecy of the “weird sisters.” Yes, there is deceit, witches, “murder most foul,” a ghost, loving families, flawed characters, warfare—something for everyone—but in the end, it is a tragedy that a courageous and loyal soldier and nobleman turns to the dark side and, in doing so, loses everything.
Patrons walking into the theater were instantly transported to the Scottish Highlands with misty fog gently rising against the dark and jagged battlements of a castle fortress. Producing Artistic Director Carl Lefko and his team created a classic palace scene using set construction, lighting, fog, sound, torches and other techniques to immerse the audience in the movement of the play. Having some of the audience members seated within part of the stage also brought them closer to the action and allowed the characters to speak directly to them as a part of the drama.
Also, who can forget the sights, sounds and expert lighting of the witches at the beginning of the play that set the tone for the wicked deeds to come; the knife that mysteriously appears on the side of the castle during the famous dagger scene; or the glowing and steaming witches’ cauldron.
Molly Hood’s skilled director’s hand could be seen in every word, action and facial expression of the actors, who helped bring Shakespeare’s language to life for the audience and added so much to the unfolding plot. Robb Hunter’s fight choreography was incredibly realistic, and the combat scene that used red lighting and slow-motion choreography was especially powerful. Monica Weinzapfel’s costume design drew the audience back to Medieval times with authentically clothed noblemen, ladies, servants, and a fearsome representation of the witches.
The actors were outstanding in the interpretation and depiction of their characters. Drew Callahan intricately expressed the courage and tormented mind of Macbeth. His powerful soliloquies illustrated a torn and deteriorating conscience as prophecies, his wife and events carried him farther and farther away from rationality.
Lexi Cohen was an extraordinary Lady Macbeth who put ambition above everything and drove her husband with biting words and emotion. Guest artist Rafael Untalan was a regal, thoughtful and generous Duncan. His love for his children and appreciation for his noblemen were tangible. Joshua Mullins did a fabulous job with his interpretation of Banquo as a loyal brother-in-arms and later a haunting apparition.
Jordan Wommack was excellent as the impertinent and sometimes inebriated porter/doorkeeper. Wommack spoke directly to the audience and provided an amusing and spontaneous scene filled with comic relief after Duncan’s murder. Wommack’s peeking out of the gate after bows provided a delightful close to the dark tragedy.
Mac McMullen as Macduff and Megan Ward as Lady Macduff created a beautiful family along with young Laken Thompson, who handled her discussion about traitors, husbands, wives and other relevant topics with Ward expertly. McMullen later provides an emotional and vengeful opponent for Callahan’s Macbeth.
The three witches formed a terrifying group with Logan Burnley, Rachel Groover and Marley Neville handling their parts masterfully. Madeline Murchie-Beyman, Jeremiah Smith, Jacob McNulty, Reghan Cutler and Madison Hunwick perfectly portrayed loyal noblemen as well as dinner guests who were dedicated to king and country but taken aback by Macbeth’s bizarre behavior during his visions of Banquo’s ghost.
There are many other actors and behind the scenes personnel who all worked together to create a classic interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. The performance showcased Shakespeare’s nuanced writing, of course, but it came together superbly because of the outstanding acting, direction and production values.
The NRV community was very fortunate to have this opportunity to experience such a professional production that brought The Bard’s words to life. Congratulations to the Radford Theatre Department and all of the students and staff involved for such a memorable theater experience!
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.