Trinity Repertory Company’s production of “Macbeth,” running from Jan. 31 through March 3, is a gloriously gruesome and thrilling performance, presenting a characterization of baseness all too applicable in today’s political world.
While many theatrical interpretations of Shakespeare wrench the plot into different settings or languages, Trinity Rep’s version of “Macbeth” does not change the basic structure of the play. Though the actors are dressed in modern fashion and their scenes are scored with contemporary music, the performance retains the thematic and stylistic trappings of traditional Shakespearean theater.
The director of the show, Curt Columbus, explained his desire to preserve the “original impulse” of Shakespeare, mentioning the playwright’s use of what was then considered “contemporary garb” and music in every performance. Columbus wanted to “make the visual landscape of the play something that people recognize today,” he said, and his preference for protecting the “original impulse” creates a faithful rendition of “Macbeth” translated from Shakespeare’s time into the present.
Although some renditions shy away from gore, Trinity Rep’s authentically modern portrayal of “Macbeth” favors a gruesome and bloody stage. The show contains buckets of blood and wanton death, which Columbus states are inherent in the writing. “We tend to think of ‘Macbeth’ as more of an intellectual affair, and in fact it’s written to have all of this magic and stagecraft in it,” Columbus said.
The performance emphasizes the occult component, creating spine-chilling scenes of horror as Macbeth and the three Weird Sisters summon spirits from a cauldron (replaced, in this instance, by a bathtub).
Blood is used as a metaphor throughout the play; “all of the pivotal moments in the play have an image of blood,” Columbus said. Many of the well-known moments in the Scottish play center around blood, and not many characters survive to the end of the night, meeting death at the hands of the title character and those in his service.
In Trinity Rep’s performance, as Lady Macbeth infamously wails “Out, damned spot,” a blacklight in her hands illuminates stains of dripping blood across the stage, allowing the audience to share in her delusional nightmare.
Columbus cited the critic Susanne Wofford’s essay on dismemberment as an influential text for his rendition, and it shows. The production does not flinch at displaying the severed head of Macbeth as his decapitated body swings in a net hanging high above the stage.
The music in the show adds to the omnipresence of death. Almost every ghost sings a mournful melody as they slowly march off-stage, with the notable exception of Macbeth; perhaps decapitation precludes singing.
Along with these a cappella death numbers, modern club music accompanies the several parties thrown in Macbeth’s castle. “There are a bunch of these celebrations in there, which is a little bit crazy and a little bit queasy,” Columbus said. “We use the club sounds also to give us a sense of battle, the way that movies and video games soundtrack battle,” he added.
Although several physical fights take place, the celebration scenes come off as the ugliest, and mental and physical war pervades the performance.
For Columbus, the themes and tragedy of “Macbeth” are appropriate for today’s political atmosphere. “I was talking about how destabilizing the news was to me, vis-a-vis all of the lying and self-interest,” Columbus said. “I realized that ‘Macbeth’ really is a tale of violent self-interest.”