Theater Review: Dashing Superstitions, Shakespeare Dallas’ Open Air Macbeth Is Beautiful, Harrowing

The theme song for the second season of the brilliant Canadian television series Slings and Arrows ends with the lyrics “So gimme King Lear, Cleopatra, Romeo, Juliet, doesn’t mattra – I’ll play them all for free. But I’d be crackers to take on Mackers. You see, I’m skittish about the Scottish tragedy.”

It’s a reference to the time-honored theatrical tradition of superstition that holds that bad juju surrounds any production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth. You’d hardily know it, though, watching the latest production of the Scottish-set play at Shakespeare Dallas, which brings one of the Bard’s most beloved works to life with zesty eloquence.

Guest Director and Assistant Professor of Drama at The University of Dallas Stefan Novinski brings a spooky gut-punch of an interpretation to the outdoor environs, which, on opening night, featured a huge, yet rapt audience. His actors show a practiced depth of understanding and passion for the material, and his creative team of Bob Lavallee (scenic design), Driscoll Otto (lighting), Bruce Richardson (sound and composition), and Amy Pedigo-Otto (Costumes) have fashioned a modern Scottish world of magic and strife amidst the fogs of war that works beautifully outdoors.

From first glimpse of the white-haired, red-handed weird sisters (Julia Vanderveen, Donjalea Chrane, and Anastasia Munoz) scurrying over the casualties of war dead and fleeing up Lavallee’s raked façade you know that you are in for something special, and the rest of the high school English-familiar action does not disappoint either. It certainly does not hurt to have Chris Hury (beyond brilliant in SD’s Cyrano de Bergerac) as the titular tyrant, and the great Joanna Schellenberg as his “fiend-like queen.”

Hury plays the man of “vaunting ambition” with equal parts of menace and madness with an introspective twist. His Macbeth is overcome with passion for fighting, for wooing, and for his murky fate. The delivery verges into the over-breathy at times, but his iambic pentameter still sings like it should. Schellenberg’s portrayal is perfectly suited to cajole and seduce her sometimes-reluctant husband as she laces her sharp verbal pokes with a syrupy purr. Her “screw your courage to the sticking-place” line sends shivers.

Steven Young, a delightful actor, continues the excellent standard he established for SD’s Twelfth Night with his present roles as the doomed King Duncan, Murderer 1, and Mentieth. Aaron Roberts is a highland heath vision of pained loss, and manly temperament as the avenging Macduff. Austin Tindle delivers a subdued, yet powerful performance as the future king Malcolm. And a special note for the ever-dependable H. Francis Fuselier’s hilarious turn as the piss-drunk Porter. He thoroughly nails Shakespeare’s only comic relief in this scary tragedy.

The Scottish play, nay, let us say it loud and proud — Macbeth is arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest literary achievements and an eternal crowd favorite. One could say that staging this “cursed” piece as SD’s last play in a dazzling season is tempting fate; however, the proof is in the performance, and this one is a winner beyond any superstition.

Note: The play will run from September 22 – 29 at Samuell Grand Amphitheatre and October 3-October 14 at Addison Circle Park

Photo: Chris Hury as Macbeth and Joanna Schellenberg as Lady Macbeth (Courtesy of Shakespeare Dallas).

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