ORLANDO — The production of “Macbeth” being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater this weekend doesn’t have the look of Scotland in the 1500s, and in fact seems to better resemble the dark, ominous landscape seen in “The Terminator” movies.
The text by Shakespeare is the same, but this “Macbeth” jettisons the audience into a post-apocalyptic future, where teens scamper across the stage, looking like scavengers in search of food, appearing both desperate — and dangerous. There’s an undercurrent of violence about to explode in virtually every scene.
And with all due respect to Shakespeare purists, it works. This play about witches, ghosts, bloody murders and revenge only seems to get stronger as visualized through the bleak landscape that the characters — all of them under the age of 20 — inhabit.
“Macbeth” is being performed this week by The Young Company, the summer camp held at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center that allows teens from area high schools to audition for, and perform in, one of Shakespeare’s classic plays.
All of the performers, including James Robinson as Macbeth and Hayley Shipley as Lady Macbeth, are in their teens, but this definitely doesn’t feel like a high school show put on solely for the benefit of smiling parents. The director, local theater veteran Monica Long Tamborello, not only brings out some excellent performances from the young cast, but also keeps the play moving at a sharp, rapid-fire pace. It doesn’t miss out on the drama of this tragedy, but only enhances it — think Shakespeare in the video game age.
The play opens, of course, with the three witches (Natalia Urzua, Rose Helsinger and Carmen Michaud) having a vision of Macbeth, the victor in the bloody civil war that has now ended, rising to become King. When Macbeth and Banquo stumble on the witches’ lair, the witches proclaim that Macbeth is now destined to become King — setting in motion the bloody series of events that will cause Macbeth to murder the king, Duncan, that he had pledged to loyally serve, driven on by his equally ambitious and power-hungry wife.
At the same time, this production of “Macbeth” has a strikingly different look and feel than past versions I’ve seen. It truly does capture the feel of a post-apocalyptic world, one where a fierce war appears to have wiped out all of the adults, leaving only the children behind, to survive on their own. This one is almost like a “Macbeth” meets “Lord of the Flies,” where survival means being the strongest, toughest, most cunning, most devious, and most ruthless one in the pack.
The play has a series of visually stunning scenes, most of them in the second act, including Macbeth’s second visit to see the three witches, where they prophesize that he can only be defeated by a man not born of woman; where the trees of Burnham Wood are plucked and used as cover for the soldiers attacking Macbeth’s castle; and, most powerfully, the slaughter of rival Macduff’s pregnant wife and young son, where a red cloth is used to chilling effect.
Tamborello also powerfully stages the scene where Macbeth, hosting a celebration, is haunted by the ghost of Banquo, and the moment when Lady Macbeth, wracked by guilt, struggles to wipe from her hands the blood that was washed away long ago. Again, even with the cast of youngsters, this hardly feels like an amateur production; rather, it’s like a video game featuring young people that takes the audience on one truly soaring roller coaster ride.
The young performers are up to the challenge, and both Robinson and Shipley do a fine job in the leads, while Elizabeth Tammi is heartbreaking real in Lady Macduff’s death scene.
The production continues tonight at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the theater at 812 E. Rollins St. in Orlando. Tickets are $10 and are available online, by calling 407-447-1700 or in person at the Box Office.
Michael Freeman in an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..