With stars overhead and faint sounds from picturesque Ellicott City, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) brings a homey atmosphere to their movable Macbeth, performed amongst the renovated ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute.
The former girls’ boarding school has been home to CSC for 17 years, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the company did their first “movable” show, asking the audience to literally follow the action around the grounds. That inaugural production was Macbeth, directed by Founder and Artistic Director Ian Gallanar and starring Associate Artistic Director Scott Alan Small. They both return to the production eleven years later.
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Audiences can arrive as much as 90 minutes early to picnic under a tent or explore the place. On opening night, the show was packed with audience members of all ages. Talking during a show is normally a sin, but in the open air it’s delightful to overhear a mother whispering summaries of the plot to her child for whom this 413-year-old play is totally new. There’s even a coloring book page of the Weird Sisters in the program.
Small, having performed in Macbeth for CSC four times (Once as Duncan, all others as Macbeth), easily delivers a fine performance, covering Macbeth’s fall from a cocksure swagger with his dear friend Banquo, fresh from a victorious battle to bitter, sharp commands to his page as prophesied Birnam Wood marches on Dunsinane.
Tamieka Chavis, from her majestic entrance on the back stairs of the Institute, is a refreshingly believable Lady Macbeth. Her marriage has more tenderness than is often seen in this play, which makes for good contrast once blood is drawn and there is no time for tenderness.
The “movable” concept has its strengths and weaknesses. Using so much of the unique venue puts most sets to shame. Gallanar allows Terrance Fleming’s Macduff to push the show a step towards immersive theatre, finding a moment after the murder of Macduff’s family to be seen between scenes brooding and sharpening his sword.
Macbeth from Chesapeake Shakespeare Company closes June 23, 2019. Details and tickets
For the most part, the movable show felt less immersive and more like riding the bus. While the destinations were nice, much of the show gets eaten up by ushers herding the large crowd from one space to another. And there’s a guilt-ridden drama after almost every move as audience members debate whether to take one of the few available seats or stand and leave the seat open for any elderly or disabled people. I now know a stranger’s surgical history (announced to the crowd at large as an excuse for sitting) and had to think more about my own invisible disability than about ambition in medieval Scotland.
Anyone wary of the ticket price might ask how this production of a 413-year-old play with a repeat director and four-time repeat lead, whose idiosyncratic twist of being movable is also still a repeat, could be a fresh experience. I’d say, it’s who you see it with. With ample time to enjoy the ruins before the show starts and to chatter during the transit time between scenes, this show leaves space for its audience to share their experiences with each other. If you’re a parent hoping to give your child their first taste of Shakespeare or on a date and eager to explore a cool place together, CSC’s Movable Macbeth gives you a solid show and plenty of fresh air.
Macbeth by Willaim Shakespeare. Directed by Ian Gallanar. Cast: Scott Alan Small (Macbeth), Tamieka Chavis (Lady Macbeth), Frank B. Moorman (Duncan, Doctor, Porter), Ian Charles (Malcolm, Murderer), Maria Marsalis (Donalbain, Caithness, Apparition), Vince Eisenson (Banquo), Theodore Sherron III (Fleance), Terrance Fleming (Macduff, Murderer), Molly Moores (Lady Macduff, Weird Sister), Bess Kaye (Ross, Weird Sister), Christian Wilson (Angus), Taylor Rekus (Seyton, Murderer), Madison Steiner (Macduff’s Child, Apparition), Mabelle Fomundam (Weird Sister, Gentlewoman), Juliet Jacob (Messenger). Production Manager: Kyle Rudgers. Stage Manager: Lydia McCaw. Scenic and Lighting Designer and Technical Director: Daniel O’Brien. Costume designer: Kristina Lambdin. Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.