Macbeth: Presented by the Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston, Texas

Article excerpt

Macbeth Presented by The Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston, Texas. July 30-August 13, 2004. Directed by Rob Bundy. Scenic and lighting design by John Gow. Costume design by Margaret Monostory Crowley. Sound design by Kelly Babb. Fights by Brian Byrnes. With Sonia Montoya (First Witch), Laurie Scott (Second Witch), Kelley Stoke (Third Witch), Ralph Ehntholt (Duncan, Old Siward, Rosse's Father), Brandon Hearnsberger (Donalbain), JJ Johnston (Malcolm), Kalob Martinez (Lennox), Ben Grimes (Captain, Seyton), Pablo Bracho (Rosse), Jason Douglas (Macbeth), Daniel Magill (Banquo), Sally Edmundson (Lady Macbeth), Al Fallick (Fleance, Young Siward), Rutherford Cravens (Porter, Doctor), Justin Doran (Macduff), Ivy Castle (Hecate, Lady Macduff, Gentlewoman), Harrison Kerr (Young Macduff), and others.

Like Akira Kurosawa's 1957 film Throne of Blood, Rob Bundy's production of Macbeth set Shakespeare's play in the context of a feudal Asian society. Yet unlike Kurosawa's film, this production was not trying to recreate a specific time or place; rather, Bundy borrowed from a variety of Asian cultures to construct an abstract world for the tragedy. The director's program notes indicated that the production incorporated several themes from Eastern philosophies: the Hindu idea of reality as an illusion, the Buddhist concept of Karma, and the Taoist emblem of life as a continual cycle. These themes were manifested in Bundy's production by the centrality of the three witches, the degenerative relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the closing tableau, which implied that the violence would begin again.

The witches, whose garb and dance-like movements linked them to Hinduism, were somewhat anomalous in the human world of the play, whose aesthetic was taken primarily from traditional Japanese and Chinese cultures. The warriors wore samurai armor and helmets and carried long spears and swords, and the gentry wore ornately embroidered Chinese brocades in rich jewel tones. The music was primarily Japanese flute and drums, which recalled the eerie scoring of Kurosawa's film. The setting conveyed the impression of a sumptuous Chinese palace, with carved walls in shades of green and copper, and large translucent windows. Yet the witches wore gauzy Indian draperies in bright yellow and burgundy over pants that were gathered at the ankles. They were all young, with long straight black hair pulled back into ponytails, and performed Hindu-influenced movements, often pressing their hands together in a prayer-like gesture or entwining their arms together over their heads.

The witches were central to this production, and their presence onstage was greatly expanded beyond the few scenes in which they appear in the play. The production opened by staging the battle against Macdonwald, and the witches gathered in the center of the action to watch. When they vanished during their encounter with Macbeth and Banquo in 1.3, they simply froze in place; the humans could no longer see them, but they remained onstage to watch the rest of the scene. They also presented and manipulated the dagger that Macbeth saw in 2.1; the First Witch held it out, taunting and tantalizing Macbeth by keeping it just out of his reach. The "gouts of blood" he saw on the blade were represented by a red silk scarf that the Second Witch draped over it. …