Produced by: We Players
Featuring: Ava Roy, Mackenszie Drae, Lauren Dietrich Chavez, Lila Popell, Mae Capron, Brian Smick, Nikolas Strubbe, Benjamin Stowe, James Udom, Steve Boss, Julie Douglas, Caroline Parsons and Maria Leigh
Directed by: Ava Roy and John Hadden
When: Previews August 30-September 1; opens September 5, runs through October 13, 2013, Thursdays through Sundays.
Where: Fort Point, at the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco
Note: Use the bathrooms outside the Fort; once inside, the doors close for the three hours of the production
Tickets:$30-$60; call 415-547-0189 or visit www.weplayers.org SPECIAL NOTE: Because of the federal government shutdown, the Saturday, October 5, 2013, performance is to take place at the Civil War Parade Ground at the Main Post of the Presido, 34 Graham Street, San Francisco. Remaining performances, according to the We Players website, are take place elsewhere or be canceled. Ticket-holders are to be notified via email.
Read a San Francisco Chronicle story about the move to the Presidio.
We Players' production of "Macbeth" is not a play. It is an adventure.
The production engages every one of the five senses. Designed as an immersive experience, it includes physical exertion, moving from scene to scene with the characters, and at the climax you could find yourself as a member of the English army headed by Macduff on their way to fight Macbeth. It is an unforgettable Scottish evening.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We gathered underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, outside the walls of a Civil War era fort waiting to see the We Players production of "Macbeth." We were divided into two groups: the diamonds and the crescents. Two characters took charge, sergeants Butler and Train, with each group following either Butler or Train for the evening. There was an announcement welcoming us to Scotland.
Scotland, you say? We were given instructions to stick together, moving as silently and quickly as possible. Attention is required to make our way through the dark corridors and up and down the spiral stairs. Then the doors opened, and we moved in like soldiers as horns and a drum played.
Behind us, the doors were locked.
We Players has a well-deserved reputation for staging plays where the audience is sitting on the edge of the action, blurring the proscenium arch, physically walking from scene to scene through constantly changing spaces. Fort Point lends itself to this production. The dull roar of the traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge was always present throughout the evening.
The Three Witches were terrifying, played by Julie Douglas, Maria Leigh, and Caroline Parsons. The synergy betwixt them held the audience spellbound. Their costumes were dyed using natural berries, and the props they used created a real atmosphere of magic from the very start of the play. As the evening wore on, and the shadows grew longer, the witches grew darker, culminating in the opening scene of the fourth act where they tell Macbeth of his imminent demise. It is an unforgettable scene.
Mackenszie Drae plays Macbeth. He is able to draw a distinction between Macbeth as he enthusiastically plots with his wife to kill King Duncan, played by Steve Boss, and the Macbeth hesitant to "do the deed."
Drae is able to convince the audience quite effectively of Macbeth's conscience, down to his trembling, blood-stained hands. The space in which the scene takes place forces the audience onto the stage, and Macbeth walks amongst us holding the bloody daggers. His unwillingness to finish the job makes Lady Macbeth take the daggers back into Duncan's bedroom.
It is co-director Ava Roy's portrayal of Lady Macbeth that steals the show. Her tearstained soliloquies gave the audience glimpses of a blind soul whose ambition led her into a hell of her own making. Everything about her is revealed when we first meet her, as she is reading Macbeth's letter to her about King Duncan's visit. Her ambition is stripped naked when she invokes the spirits to "unsex me here." But when she convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan, her dark soul is contrasted by the glowing performance. Even her skin seemed to pale as the skies above grew darker.
Sergeants Butler and Train escorted the two groups effortlessly through the fort. Sometimes both groups were together, and sometimes we were apart.
One of the more remarkable scenes takes place in England, when Macduff, played by Benjamin Stowe, speaks with Malcolm, played by James Udom, about the future of Scotland. Udom's diction and syntax is truly Shakespearean. His attempt to test Macduff's loyalty by portraying himself as having a weak personality filled with vices is really convincing.
But when he finally reveals his true ambition after Macduff proves he is loyal, Udom's Malcolm fills the small, damp room magnificently. Whilst this is happening, the audience can hear in the distance, in another part of the fort, the screams of Macduff's wife, daughter and infant, as they are slain in Scotland. Both scenes ran concurrently for the two different groups, giving audience members different impressions of the scenes.
Immediately after, the two groups were brought together to witness Macduff receiving the news that his family has been slain. Stowe brings real emotion to the difficult part of Macduff. His presence during the climax, as Macduff slays Macbeth, leaves you on the tips of your toes (or on the edge of your stool, should you elect to carry one of the stools provided for the audience).
The banquet scene where Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost is the best scene in the entire show. It is a real banquet, and the audience was escorted right up to the table, and food was served. We began to eat. Suddenly Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear, bidding us all to sit down. So begins the famous scene where Macbeth utters the immortal words: "Blood will have blood." With the ambient noise from the bridge, the incredible acoustics provided by the brick arches, and (I hate to say it) the food, the scene left an incredible impression on the combined audience.
But it is when Great Birnam wood came to high Dunsinane Hill that Macbeth knew his time was up. And in one of the most dramatic staged scenes, it is half the audience that moves on Dunsinane as the English army, holding and waving bushes as they run across the courtyard.
It may sound chaotic, but the choreography was seamless, leading to a climactic ending that saw Macbeth and Macduff engaging in a life or death duel, racing up three stories to the roof, where Macbeth meets his ignoble end. This is audience participation deserving of a Tony Award.
Engaging the audience, moving around the fort, and empowered by guides to get as close to the action as possible, magnified the emotional impact of Shakespeare's tragedy. Instead of sitting passively, the audience was requested to pay special attention to the surroundings, moving up and down treacherous spiral stairs. The guides made sure everyone arrived at each scene safely. The time spent moving through the old structure was as important as the scenes themselves.
The contrast of the wind-whipped courtyard and the still, squalid, damp air deep in the bowels of the fort gave me a real sense that I was traveling through time and space.
Indeed, I had fleeting moments where Banquo's ghost seemed to appear, and witches seemed to levitate. But fair is foul and foul is fair; we were warned not to trust appearances. After the play was over, and the gates of the fort were unlocked, we walked out in the darkness, unsure of where we were and feeling the momentum of the play. For a moment I was sure I saw Macbeth's ghost.
Such things happen when visiting Scotland in such a way.
Lloyd G. Francis is the author of "From Rum to Roots." Visit his blog.