On opening night, director Irwin Appel told the audience “the best way to study a play is to do it.” In that case, these 16 UCSB students will all surely ace the final on Macbeth. Using a bare minimum of props and moving to the beat of an onstage drum, the students and two of their professors came together for an enthralling evening that, while often rowdy and even chaotic, nevertheless succeeded in releasing the magical energy contained in Shakespeare’s text.
In the title role, Jeff Mills called on every resource in his actor’s toolkit to embody Macbeth’s journey from man to thane, from thane to king, and finally, from king to “rarer monster.” Madelyn Robinson brought wit and beauty to her portrayal of the famously intimidating and mercurial Lady Macbeth, who blasts her husband with threats and curses at one moment, only to accept his silent, nodded injunction to leave the stage the next. And Michael Morgan was fine and regal as Duncan, the king who should have known better than to accept the hospitality of Macbeth.
The real star of this Macbeth is the brilliant production, which is full of intelligent, innovative, and effective stage business. Thanks to the masks included in Ann Bruice’s costumes, entrances remain possible even for players who are already onstage. The masks and the show’s movement, for which choreographer Christina McCarthy advised Appel, combine to create a sense that spirits are present not only in the scenes with the witches, but throughout the haunted space of Macbeth’s nightmare world.