Scottish history, historic landscapes, haunting costumes and dramatic tragedy were brought together at Historic St. Mary’s City with St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s (SMCM) adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” directed by Amy Steiger, Ph.D. The first of the ten packed performances took place Oct. 23, with closing night on Nov. 1. The play was distinct for its moving set, which required the audience to walk from location-to-location in Historic St. Mary’s as the dramatic scenes in Shakespeare’s classic work unfolded.
The idea for the unique outdoor setting originally came from Leah Mazur, Resident Scenographer and Assistant Professor of TFMS who was the Scenic and Costume designer on set. In the Program, Mazur explains that “Macbeth” was chosen for this location “because of historical resonances between the play and this place and because of the witches and ghosts of history.” From the opening scene, the historic setting and the audience immersion in the play encourages participation and introspection in the play that is unparalleled in a stage-setting. Jeanette Warren, who plays Macbeth, commented on the awesome effect of this setting in an interview with The Point News, saying, “The site-specific nature of our production allows unique interpretation and expression … Everything about the old city creates an immersive, eerie experience for actors and audience alike.” Each of the locations carry with them their own significance and design, from the lavishly decorated State House which functions as the home of lordly Macbeth, to the haunting ruins in which the three witches first appear to Macbeth. The result is an immersive experience which transports the viewer into the world of Shakespeare’s ancient Scotland, where men kill kings, wives manipulate husbands, children are murdered and three mysterious “witches” watch it all unfold.
However, the setting is only the platform upon which the actors and the work of the production staff is made visible, and in these departments SMCM’s “Macbeth” shines. Dressed in historical Scottish clothes, the diverse cast of characters make both the setting and script their own. Duo Jeanette Marie Warren and Nadia Gaylin, who play Lord and Lady Macbeth respectively, gave a particularly powerful performance of love and guilt, as the married couple contrive to murder their king and then struggle with the resulting blood on their hands. Warren spoke to “The Point News” about playing the role of Macbeth, saying she tried to present Macbeth “as a complex human, filled with fears and insecurities that guide his hunger for power.” The rawness and complexity of both Macbeth and a range of characters throughout the performance is evident, and the immersive setting only adds to the strong acting.
A key aspect of the play’s success is its ability to resonate with a contemporary audience despite the historical focus and setting. In the Program, Steiger explains that the play references “Medieval Scotland, colonial Maryland, and the contemporary world.” Though the audience walks among historic buildings and experiences a historical drama, contemporary details such as songs by Queen tie the audience and the performance to contemporary reality. The play is aware of this fluidity of time within the adaptation and uses the colonial history of the land to confront relevant issues. It opens with a letter recognizing both indigenous peoples and enslaved persons who suffered on the land used for the performance, and an essential theme of the adaption is “otherness,” with Steiger explaining that “We envision the witches as marginalized, disempowered people who recognize Macbeth’s violent nature and ego.”
Thus, the play combines dramatic Shakespearean literature with a historical setting and contemporary issues to tell a compelling story of an ancient Scottish tragedy that remains relevant in contemporary Southern Maryland. Through strong performances, beautiful costume design and a unique site-specific performance, Steiger’s “Macbeth” is a beautiful and enthralling rendition of a classic performance.