Monday, October 21, 2019

"Macbeth" by Wayward Theatre Company at the James J. Hill House

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's creepiest and darkest plays. Which makes it a perfect choice to produce during Halloween season, at the James J. Hill House which, while elegant during the day, is a bit creepy after hours. Wayward Theatre Company, experts at site-specific theater, is doing not only that, but also moving the audience around the house to eight different performance locations. For a three-hour play, the walking around adds interest and keeps the blood flowing. This intimate and immersive (but not interactive) show feels immediate and brings out all of the horror of this tale of unbridled greed.

Michael Kelley as Macbeth
(photo courtesy of Wayward)
The show begins in the room just off the gift shop (which was fortunately closed, otherwise I would have likely bought jewelry, hats, and books while waiting for the show to start). If you choose the 7pm start time, you'll be treated to a sort of pre-intermission break with music. The 730pm start time goes straight through and meets up with the first group. This allows the beginning scenes to be more intimate, as we traverse up the stairs to a few locations on the third and second floors, then back to the first floor concert hall. The group then moves as a whole (which takes a bit of time in transitions, but there's plenty to look at in this grand house), with just two locations in Act II. We're ushered by stern, efficient, and slightly terrifying guides, who also play roles in the scenes at times. The bloody (or in this case bloodless - it's a historic home so we don't want red fluids flying everywhere) murders happen in the hall in front of the staircase, which feels pretty brutal and horrifying. The Act II battle scenes take place in the basement, which is a bit more spacious and sparse and cold (literally, the upper floors can get warm so dress in layers).

Sarah Nargang as Lady Macbeth
(photo courtesy of Wayward)
What fun it must have been for director Tim McVean (Wayward co-founder) and assistant director Shannon Twohy to figure out where to stage the different parts of the play. The scenes that take place in the Macbeth's mansion feel particularly real as we are in a real mansion, and can hear sounds and scuffles happening in other parts of the house as the story calls for it. And I was surprised at the variety of lighting affects accomplished by lighting designer Jordon Noltner within the limitations of a non-traditional theater space, with rules about what can touch what (do not touch the wood!). The costuming of the piece (designed by Anna Hall) seems to set the story in the 1940s, the women in calf-length skirts with '40s styled hair, the men in military uniforms with a plaid sash to remind us we're in Scotland. It's a very smart and efficient use of the James J. Hill House, which has become quite the hot spot for theater.

It's fun to watch the huge and talented cast stay in character through all the transitions and locations, and observe their emotions up close. Wayward co-founders Michael Kelly and Sarah Nargang play the Lord and Lady Macbeth, and are both deliciously ambitious, evil, conflicted, and mad. Tina Frederickson, Megan Volkman-Wilson, and Alessandra Bongiardina are appropriately creepy as the three weird sisters, aka witches. Other highlights include Lucas Gerstner as the doomed Banquo, the adorable young Tristan Bodin as his son Fleance, and Kip Hathaway with the lone comic turn as the drunken Porter in this otherwise sober piece.

Macbeth continues at the James J. Hill House through November 17 on St. Paul's historic Summit Avenue, with performances almost nightly (except for Tuesdays).