The story of “Macbeth” has been told and retold hundreds of times, all over the world. This year, in New York City alone, “The Scottish Play” has been re-imagined on Broadway and through an interactive theater experience in an old hotel.
With so many revivals it was essential that Alberto Bonilla, director of “Macbeth” at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, maintain the central themes while bringing a fresh take on the story.
The Shakespearean play tells the story of Macbeth, a kinsman of the king of Scotland. After a successful battle, three fortune-telling witches tip off Macbeth that he is to become king. What follows is a rapid descent into ruin.
“I wanted to bring it back to its roots,” Bonilla said. “For me, it’s man versus fate, good versus evil. The most successful ‘Macbeth’s are the ones who show a good man fall.”
This is, perhaps, why the play has been staged so many times. It is one of the few Shakespearean works that delves deep into the internal battle between good and evil that each of us holds inside and shows us just how fragile our morality can be.
As Lady Macbeth says to her husband when he struggles over murdering yet another person to protect his crown, “to be thus is to be safely thus.”
Though the piece was written in the early 1600s, Lady M’s words hold relevance as news of corrupt politicians, longing for success and blinded by ambition, splatter our headlines.
Overall, the interpretation was well-done. The cast was strong and each player had an opportunity to shine, but none stood out so much as Rachel Cornish, who played a hauntingly powerful Lady Macbeth.
“Lady Macbeth is really the catalyst for Macbeth,” Bonilla said. “I actually see her as an unapologetic woman with ambition. She gets what she wants.”
The female lead, referred to by many as Shakespeare’s strongest and most dynamic, automatically gives a boost to any actor who recites her soliloquies. But Cornish brought an understated strength that was present whenever she stepped on stage, making her magnetic.
Marc Levasseur made for an adequate Macbeth, though it took some time for his performance to really take flight. He was strongest in Act II, when the fearful and paranoid Macbeth becomes darker and apathetic. His final battle with Macduff, played by John Zdrojeski, was exceptional, though, at times, Zdrojeski’s performance felt forced.
The three witches, played by Annie Grier, Elizabeth Inghram and Kate Gunther, are disturbing and wicked — as they should be. Each contorts and winds her body in ways that make it eerie to watch yet tough to look away. Bonilla has at least one witch on the stage at all times, making them Grim Reapers of sorts who feed on pain and death.
Bonilla utilizes the black-box space well by having performers running in and out from all directions, using shadows and lighting to portray demons and banging on the walls and the floors throughout the show.
But what stood out as particularly innovative was a single blade that stood against the wall, center stage. It was tangled in ivy and was not used until the final moments of the performance.
In a way, it acted as a reminder of the inevitable; the end that we all knew had to come. Macbeth picks up this sword in a final effort to defend all that he has gained but the blade is eventually turned on him.
Another added bit was only seconds long but made so much sense. After all has been righted and Macbeth has been killed, the new king of Scotland and his court exit stage left.
Lennox, one of the minor characters, trails behind and for a moment, he feels a cool seed planted into his brain as the witches surround him. One can assume it is the same seed that was planted in Macbeth’s brain; the one that rooted and grew like a virus until he lost all of himself. It is that seed, now planted in Lennox, that continues the cycle.
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest work and yet is considered his darkest. It projects the intoxicating effects the promise of power can have on an individual.
“We set the story in Christian Druid times,” Bonilla said. “I’m a huge fan of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and I think that the Druid, Celtic theme can encompass the epic nature and epic scenes in ‘Macbeth.’
The period is evident from the moment you step foot in the space. Incense, fog and cool colors add to the mysticism of the era.
Costumes are simple. The men wear strips of fabric around their hips like loin-cloths and have Celtic symbols painted on their bodies, giving each character an aggressive and savage look that does not overtake or clash against the plot. The battle scenes are well-choreographed, full of wrestling, broad swords and shields.
“I want people to walk away thinking that they had an amazing ride emotionally and theatrically,” Bonilla said. “The play moves, this isn’t a boring show.”
Indeed, it isn’t.
When: through July 27, 8 p.m. Thurs. to Saturday 7 p.m. on Sundays
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23 St., LIC
Tickets: $18 secrettheatre.com