published: Fri, 6-Feb-2004   |   updated: Wed, 4-Jan-2017

Ross in Macbeth by William Shakespeare for Smokebrush. Directed by Gregory Wagrowski. February 1998. 22 performances.

Ah, Macbeth. Not only one of Shakespeare's most famous and accessible plays (and the one you never mention when doing another play), but also set in a future post-apocalyptic society to boot, much like Mad Max. And a cast of thousands. And armor made from old tires, cut up and strung together. And yours truly had a sword-stick, yay!

Yes, I played Ross as a kind of dandified thug whose weapon of choice was a sword-stick. Bloody marvellous, whipping out the sword in times of danger. The problem, with regard to the fight choreography, was that the sword part was too light compared with the other weapons, and so I didn't have too much fighting to do.

The production was a good one, although bringing such a huge cast together ready for the performances was an act of utter organization and chaos.

Although Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespeares, partly because I did it in Eng. Lit. for O-levels at school (and we saw the Polanski Macbeth at the time as well), I really can't remember too much about this production at this remove of nine years. Ross is a smallish part in the play, he pops up every now and then, and because of the way the rehearsals were structured, there were long periods when I didn't have to be there.

I recall the first read-through though when Ziggy wanted us to read it deadpan, without emotion, which is pretty hard when you think about it. It was mostly to help the unaccustomed-to-the-language actors feel at home with what was being said, I suppose.

I also remember helping Suzanne Dillon out with the armor. Holes had to be punched through the cut-up tire material and it's only when you try and do this that you fully realize how a tire is built with a metal mesh running underneath the tread. It was, to be honest, bloody hard work.

Cast (in order of appearance)

Witch #2Eve Tilley
Witch #3Mary Sprunger-Froese
Witch #1Sharon McGinnis
Duncan/PorterPaul Mathewson
MalcolmDustin Shapard
Donalbain/Seyward's SonJason Warren
LennoxTrevin Bensko-Wecks
AngusGreg Smith
CaithnessRobert Haas
Messenger/SoldierKinch Glisson
Captain/Seyton/Murderer #3John Horn
RossJulian Bucknall
MacbethMark Tankersley
BanquoScott Allegrucci
Lady MacbethAlysabeth Clements
MacduffMichael Warren Preston
GentlewomanBonnie Ross
Old ManGordon Hinds
FleanceJoel Newmiller
LadiesMelinda Arnold
Stephanie Brunson
Sue Dougherty
SoldierBradford Fletcher
Murderer #1/Old SeywardSteve Pease
Murderer #2/MenteithDavid Hastings
Apparition #1Jeff Stone
VoiceGregory Wagrowski
Apparition #2Mila Barzdukas
VoiceBradley Steenhoek
Apparition #3Peter Barnett
VoiceTom Studer
Lady MacduffJane Fromme
Macduff's SonMichael Lee
DoctorPhilip Ginsburg
ServantBen Rosenburg

Review from The Gazette

A loud 'Macbeth' unites pre- and post-apocalypse

By Mark Arnest

The whole world is out of balance in Smokebrush's production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth." It's a brutal vision of gray brick and corrugated tin, in which "fair is foul and foul is fair"; the only colors are black, silver, and gray, and the only music is the anguished howl of the saxophone and the impersonal screeching of feedback. Director Gregory Wagrowski's post-apocalyptic setting is appropriately gloomy.

There are dozens of wonderful touches in this in-depth exploration of just about every unpleasant emotion. My blood went cold as the light went out on stage just as it goes out in Macbeth's soul right before his murder of Duncan.

My heart pounded to the sheer adrenaline in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after the murder. I felt in real danger near the end, as the sound of fighting coming from both wings enveloped the audience.

And yet I came out feeling that I'd only seen part of this rich play. There was simply too much yelling. Some of it certainly was attributable to opening night jitters, but it often makes characters seem, not large, but out of control. And the volume led to unclear diction, which obscured some of this beautiful language.

Wagrowski wants the actors to avoid stiffness, and they do. The post-apocalyptic setting doesn't help the play, which still has a strong pre-apocalyptic feel — the villains feel old-fashioned remorse and guilt, for instance — but it can do good if it helps the actors feel more comfortable with Shakespeare's language.

As for Mark Tankersley's Macbeth: When he's good, he's very, very good, and when he's bad, he's not that bad, actually. In his best scenes, such as the "tale told by an idiot" speech, he has a commanding presence and subtle understanding of the words. And his transition from a loyal thane to a miserable king, driven nearly mad by isolation and guilt, is well-handled. But too much the yelling.

Alysabeth Clements turns in a beautifully modulated performance as Lady Macbeth: from the passionate woman of the opening, to the compulsively repetitious sleepwalker, to the broken woman of the end, with no hope of redemption.

Scott Allegrucci has physical presence and focus as Banquo, but seems a bit too much the thug, without the "royalty of nature" that Macbeth ascribes to him. It's not the brutal feelings that need to be emphasized in "Macbeth," but the noble ones.

Some of these feelings came from Dustin Shapard as Duncan's son, Malcolm. He's very much an image of someone who, to borrow from a different play, has greatness thrust upon him.

Sharon McGinnis as the first witch showed how it is possible to project Shakespeare's language grandly, without losing control. Michael Lee was touching and understandable as Macduff's son.

The magnificent set is the work of Tom Studer and Wagrowski. The production also features a wonderful array of weapons made by Robert Haas. Joseph Manussier's fight choreography is imaginative and convincing, especially in the confrontation between Macduff and Macbeth. This climaxed with as good a staged decapitation as I ever hope to see, though the appearance of Macbeth's severed head - are we so jaded by Hollywood special effects? - was unfortunately greeted with titters from the audience. I suppose it now has to drip blood or talk.

The highlight of Bob Tudor's weirdly atmospheric score is the eerie fanfare that announces Macbeth's entrance as king. Wally Shoup provides the virtuoso saxophone soundtrack.

(c) The Gazette, 1998