Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash clean this glitter from my hands?
The Barestage production of “Macbeth” was notable for reasons that are common to productions of “Macbeth” — and for outlandish ones as well. As is common, the tone of the play felt heavy and mortal, alleviated only by a single comedic scene — which brought the house down in this case. Uncommonly, the blood displayed onstage was not corn syrup. It was not red silk scarves or red gels. All of the murderous scenes in the most of murderous of plays were dripping in red glitter.
A cast of UC Berkeley students made for a wide array of talents. No production of “Macbeth” would be at all noteworthy without a trio of memorable witches. In this case, Daisy Dai, Veronica Maynez and Morgan Steele brought a certain creeping competence to the parts. Dai stood out of the three, using her eyes and facial expressions to great effect to further creepify the text. Rounding out the secondary cast was a wonderfully stoic Galvin L. Mathis as Banquo and a laser-focused Clare Suffern as the catch-all gentlewoman of the show. Alexander Prucha brought a subtle emotionality to the role of Macduff and was more than matched in a playful and light hand on the role of Lady Macduff by Sharlee Taylor.
The sole comedic moment in the show came rendered expertly and hilariously by Paige Vehlewald. Her scene as the porter exposed an intimate understanding of the Bard at his funniest and an ability to work the crowd that most professional theater actors would die for. Vehlewald played drunk but did not overplay it, edged bawdy but not too bawdy and played a role usually given to a man with an equable flair. Usually, Macbeth does the majority of the killing in this play, but at Barestage, the audience members found themselves entirely slain by the porter.
The main cast came off a little uneven. Rachel Eisner appeared smoldering as Lady Macbeth, turning on a ducat from sexy to scary and back again. Her command of the lines hit the ear like an expert, but she found herself unevenly matched. Milivoj Vagic seemed out of his depth in the title role as Macbeth, struggling to find a pitch between wooden soldier and shouting orator. The cuts made to the text seemed to have been tailored to his abilities, and the play suffered a little for the amendment. This resulted in an ensemble cast struggling to hold together its own tattered banners while Vagic fell short in the Scottish play’s iconic and masterly murder-monologues.
The technical effects of the play made it unique. Improvised lighting and gels shone as much as possible in a difficult space (the choral auditorium under the Student Learning Center). A single tympanum located in the back of the theater lifted the bass notes of shock in the darkest moments of the play, making the audience jump every time. The witches came and went under cover of mist and injudicious use of strobe light. Glitter served not only as blood but also as a mark of various royal houses and stature over simple black costumes. Continuing in the less-than-serious aesthetic, the tinny bagpipe music used to announce the presence of the king quickly wore thin, as did the bookending of the play with “Die Young” by Kesha. Alternately, the set appeared to be appropriately dripping with blood and structured with a strategically built capital M. The effect was dramatic and dynamic, and the entrances and exits were managed in a way that read as innovative and varied, making the space feel larger.
Barestage always takes chances and puts on a good show. Director Matthew Hannon made solid technical moves and a few strained casting choices, resulting in a unique “Macbeth” that felt fun, overall. It’s an odd thing to say about the heaviest Shakespeare play, but with this much glitter, it’s impossible to call it anything else.