Macbeth Presented by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival at the Festival Stage, Montgomery, Alabama. February 29-June 27, 2004. Directed by Kent Thompson. Set by Peter Harrison. Dramaturgy by Susan Willis. Costumes by Beth Novak. Lighting by Donna Ruzika. Fights by Scot J. Mann. With Harry Carnahan (Macbeth), Kathleen McCall (Lady Macbeth), Paul Hebron (Duncan), Michael Bakkensen (Malcolm), Aaron Cabell (Banquo), Antony Hagopian (Macduff), Mary Proctor (Lady Macduff), Sonja Lanzener, Libby George, Lauren Hendler (Witches), Philip Pleasants (Porter, Old Siward), Chris Mixon (Ross), Larnelle Foster (Fleance), Soren Geiger or Will Goodner (son to Macduff), Frederick Snyder (Seyton), Chris Qualls (Doctor, Murderer). Joe Kolbow (Lennox), and others.
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Macbeth was a ruthlessly powerful production that clearly located the malevolence that swirls about this play not in the supernatural but in the human. The set established a world of rock and stone. The only hint of a green world was in the disconcerting touches of color in the Weird Sisters' tattered clothes and in Lady Macbeth's dress. A large stone circle comprised much of the stage. That circle was evocative and dangerously indeterminate. It could suggest the stone of Scone that gave tradition and legitimacy to Scottish kingship. But that circle, along with the geometric design carved into it and the large, vertical rock faces behind it, also recalled the ancient Celtic world of Stonehenge. And, of course, it also marked the circumference of the play's dark powers. At its center was a trap door that would become the Weird Sisters' cauldron. That center would also be the spot where Lady Macbeth knelt in the sleepwalking scene, violently, abrasively trying to rub away her guilt. And finally, it was also the spot where Macduff would "plant" the severed head of Macbeth, fixed on a wooden pole like a dwarfish tree from Birnam Wood. Around the circle were skulls and disordered parts of skeletons. There had been a history of casualties here, other Macbeths. The circumference of the stone circle was marked by runic characters that, according to the scenic designer, Peter Harrison, spelled out "Fair is foul and foul is fair."
From the opening moments of this production we were in an equivocal world, poised to tumble all together. It didn't take long. Moments before the play's opening lines, in a kind of dumb show, the Weird Sisters emerged from a tunnel directly below the audience's space. Out of hell? Or from the darker regions of our own collective unconsciousness? They crawled to the edges of the circle, where they watched and sometimes participated in the battle. In the final moments of the play, we would again be reminded of their provenance. As Macduff and Macbeth struggled for the future of Scotland, Macduff was disarmed. But before Macbeth could seize the advantage, one of the sisters gave Macduff the ax he would use to destroy the hellhound Macbeth. As the two combatants struggled, they disappeared through the same tunnel under the audience from which the sisters had emerged. Thus, when Macduff returned to the stage announcing that "the time is free," and bearing Macbeth's head on a pike, we were invited to remember the sisters' earlier entrance through that same tunnel as they had awaited the arrival of Macbeth. While the Weird Sisters were often seen witnessing and even participating in human action, they were not entirely controlling the human characters. Often appearing in the heat of war or murderous action, they seemed almost to be called into being by such terrible human deeds.
Indeed, as Susan Snyder once observed, the Weird Sisters provide only the seductive nouns. It is left to the human characters to invent the verbs, as when Macbeth's imagination conjures up a bloody dagger that not so much compels as reflects an action already formed in Macbeth's mind, an instrument that "summons me the way that I was going. …