Flat Rock – Power hunger, manipulation, arrogance, guilt, paranoia, emotional breakdown, and vengeance all come alive in the Flat Rock Playhouse this month in a uniquely down-home interpretation of Macbeth.
The audience sits on the large Leiman Mainstage, all around the play’s sub-stage. There are merely three rows on each side, and 135 seats in all. Thus, patrons are excitedly close to the action. FRP debuted such a “black box” production a season ago. It also went splendidly then. Expect Macbeth to sell out any day.
The Macbeth setting is Appalachian Mountain backwoods, specifically near Sylva and Lake Junaluska based on an early reference. The setting is a rural area besieged by a civil war — possibly post-apocalyptic, and definitely very dreary.
The dialogue is in classic Elizabethan English, yet is spoken with mountain twangs as two distinctive cultures collide.
Yet these divergent cultures blend well enough. The play remains about Macbeth and rival Macduff, rather than a silly Macgomer and Macgoober (Pyle). The cultural adaptation works because the essence of the play is what the characters do and feel — rather than how they say their words. Indeed, the cast succeeds in this prime challenge in acting out Shakespeare’s intricate dialogue. The audience better understands what goes on by deciphering key words and grasping action, tone of voice, and gestures.
Power Mongerer, Catylist
We thereby recognize how Macbeth at its heart is all the rise and fall of its lead character Macbeth and those around him. The two main characters are outstanding. David Lind is very convincing as a mountain Macbeth. He is more relatable than a Scottish nobleman in the 16th Century, as in the traditional Macbeth drama. There is cultural symmetry, given WNC’s Scotch-Irish roots.
Lind is burly — a good fit as a brute force leader. He looks like he could front a country rock band, be a pro wrestler, or confidently lead the locals.
He is quite the protagonist — a main character who changes, and who wavers. Macbeth eyes the area throne of aged Duncan (Scott Treadway), after hearing a prophecy from vagabond hippie prophet (Paul Vonasek) that Macbeth “will be king.” Yet the prophet also notes that children of Macbeth’s buddy Banquo (Patrick Harvey) will someday rule. How soon?
Jillian Geurts is phenomenal as conniving and manipulative Lady Macbeth, the cold-hearted and turbo-charged power behind the new throne. She challenges Macbeth’s manhood and daring, by successfully urging him to seize the throne by killing Duncan. “Once you have done this, then you are a man,” she tells her husband in swatting away his apprehension.
Macbeth notes that Duncan treated him well and thus doesn’t deserve a violent end. Macbeth’s sense of right and wrong resurfaces right after he does the dirty “deed,” and carries back a bloodied dagger to his wife. He kneels down, sunken by guilt. But Lady Macbeth scolds him, takes the dagger, and disposes of that evidence. She later symbolically tries to wash her hands of her involvement, as she goes off the emotional edge.
Director Lisa K. Bryant skillfully has Macbeth reveal inner thoughts with other characters frozen — indicating they are out of sight and hearing distance. Yet by leaving the others on stage, it drives home who Macbeth plots against and sparks more sympathy toward them.
This notably happens after Duncan promotes both Macbeth and Banquo, and Macbeth bristles with suspicion that his friend’s ascending political career threatens his own ambition. Banquo’s ghost later bleeds as he haunts Macbeth.
Alternating freezing enables shifting focus from Macbeth in one stage corner to his rivals in another spot.
Macduff (Eddie Maldonado) is Macbeth’s noble political arch-rival, donning a survivalist vest. Macduff is outraged by the treasonous murder of Duncan, then others closer to him. He flees, but returns for a climactic showdown with Macbeth.
Macbeth’s arrogance is fueled by the prophecy that “none of woman born (naturally) can harm Macbeth.” Yet as they clash, Macduff notes that he was born via a C-section. Oops! Macduff literally wants to give new boss Macbeth the axe, and bag his prey. Maldonado was Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks gang, in FRP’s recent West Side Story.
Local native Kyra Hewitt is bold young Siward, an English general’s son. Siward is the first to bravely duel with strong Macbeth, as English forces close in.
Beyond the Appalachian theme, another successful variation from classic Macbeth is condensing the three witches into a zany male prophet who wears an antler headpiece. Vonasek is very demonstrative in this role. When outlining Duncan’s fate, he quips about Macbeth “moving in on a Target — make that a Kmart.” Vonasek improvises in full-length plays for the Adesto Theatre in Asheville. The prophet’s hideout is mainly a table on its side, as part of a minimalist set.
The playbill outlines the plots in 16 steps.
Bonus to the Tenth Zegree
A bonus treat is discovering musical showman Nat Zegree’s dramatic side as gentle-natured and eloquent Malcolm, son of Banquo. He aligns with Macduff and the English for payback against “deceitful, malicious” Macbeth.
Yes, Nat at times plays piano and sings. We imagine that once this Banquo rules, the area frolics in song and dance.
Seats were available for shows on Oct. 19-21, as of press time. Purchase tickets by calling (828) 693-0732, or online at https://purchase.flatrockplayhouse.org/overview/3543.