Review: Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Macbeth’ offers palpable, dark portrait of ambition

L-R: Emma Geer as a Witch, Sarah Hollis as a Witch, Wayne T. Carr as Macbeth, and Betsy Mugavero as a Witch in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of "Macbeth," Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

REVIEW — Three witches walk onto a heath. It sounds like the beginning of a good joke, but in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Macbeth,” the title character’s seemingly chance encounter with these supernatural beings is anything but funny.

Performed at the Englestad Shakespeare Theatre at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts in Cedar City, “Macbeth” focuses a sharp lens on power and those who seek to gain and keep it.

“Macbeth” is one of two Shakespearean tragedies playing at this year’s festival, the other being “Hamlet.”

While both plays deal with similar themes of greed, sanity, power and the supernatural, it is in “Macbeth” that audiences can palpably feel the pitfalls of these themes.

Where “Hamlet” offers many moments of humor – the first half of the show could almost pass as a comedy – “Macbeth” has a dark and ominous tone from the start.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of “Macbeth,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified
| Photo by Karl Hugh courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

Director Melissa Rain Anderson said in the director notes that she wanted to also explore the themes of time, nature, blood and children, and she doesn’t shy away from presenting blood and the murder of children on stage.

Aided by an incredible production staff, Anderson managed to create a skin-crawling world in which to set Macbeth’s murderous machinations.

The entire production is a very sensory experience, combining sound and visual imagery to draw out a visceral reaction from the audience. At times it felt like a gut punch of anxiety as well as incredulity at Macbeth’s poor judgement.

In the story, Macbeth (played by Wayne T. Carr) and Banquo (Todd Denning) are two Scottish generals returning from a victorious battle. At the same time, on a nearby battlefield, King Duncan (Andrew May) has awarded Macbeth with the title of thane of Cawdor and sent a messenger to let Macbeth know.

L-R: Emma Geer , Sarah Hollis, and Betsy Mugavero as the Witches in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of “Macbeth,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified
| Photo by Karl Hugh courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

On their journey home, Macbeth and Banquo come upon the heath where the three witches (Sarah Hollis, Emma Geer and Betsy Mugavero) are waiting with a prophesy: Macbeth (who is still unaware of his new title at this point) will become thane of Cawdor and then king. They also predict that Banquo will become the father of kings, though not a king himself.

When the messenger arrives to tell Macbeth of his new title, he starts to believe the prophesy is coming true.

Before Macbeth arrives home, Lady Macbeth (Katie Cunningham) receives a letter detailing the witches’ prophecies, and she sets her sights on becoming queen by plotting to murder King Duncan.

What follows is a series of murders and deaths and an ever rising tide of guilt, suspicion and questionable sanity that neither Macbeth or Lady Macbeth can stop.

While the show is highlighted by its superb design, the cast has many opportunities to show off its stage prowess.

L-R: Katie Cunningham as Lady Macbeth, Emelie O’Hara as Gentlewoman, and James Newcomb as Doctor in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of “Macbeth,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified
| Photo by Karl Hugh courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

Leading the charge is Cunningham, whose Lady Macbeth is portrayed with an intriguing dichotomy that teeters between cold-hearted craftiness and guilt-ridden insanity. Cunningham commands the stage with fierceness and drama.

Carr’s Macbeth is consumed with tightening the grip on his illicitly gained power. He doesn’t have the commanding presence of Cunningham, and though I don’t know if Carr intentionally played him that way, it works, because Macbeth never had true power or respect.

Rounding out a top-notch cast is the trio of witches played by three festival greats. Hollis, Geer and Mugavero individually are precise in their craft, but the three of them together create a mystical synergy.

Clad in warrior-like garb and face tattoos, it seems obvious these three ladies are in charge of the storytelling and of bringing the “toil and trouble” to the stage.

Macbeth contains a content warning for supernatural and bloody scenes and bawdy innuendo. The production may not be suitable for children under 13.

Macbeth runs on alternating nights with other festival productions through Sept. 6. A performance schedule can be found here.

Ticket prices vary by seating section and can be purchased online, by calling 1-800-752-9849 (1-800-playtix), or at the box office at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

Event details

  • What: Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Macbeth.”
  • When: Macbeth runs on alternating nights with other productions until Sept. 6. See schedule here.
  • Where: Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 195 W. Center Street, Cedar City.
  • Cost: Varies by seating section.
  • Purchase tickets: Online, by calling 1-800-752-9849 (1-800-playtix), or at the box office at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

Email: hollie@canyonmedia.net

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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