If you want to get the same answers, keep asking the same questions. That's one takeaway from the 11 productions of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night mounted in the area since I began work as a theater critic, 21 years ago this week. Too many versions have been content to cover ground already well explored. Small wonder I am in no hurry to see yet another one.
Though Macbeth has had just as many iterations in the same period, it has fared far better. The region has seen a Kathakali variant and a Kabuki take focused on the bloody regent's wife. N.C. State's designers have placed it, post-apocalypse, somewhere on the London tube. PlayMakers' 1995 pop-culture version featured three witches whom I characterized as "refugees from an [old] Madonna video" at the time. Win, lose or draw, at least its directors have been posing different questions—and getting different answers—with this ancient script.
Thankfully, director Rebecca Blum extends this tradition in Bare Theatre's current version, remounted at Chapel Hill's Forest Theatre after a late-June staging in Raleigh. Her production asks how the moral calculus changes when the titled monarch is depicted as a family man whose teenaged son (Bevan Therien in Raleigh, Connor Gerney in Chapel Hill) stands on stage, visibly ready to inherit his throne.
This version also challenges us to see, in its famous witches, something well beyond the usual hags in eldritch drag. Reflecting recent research on Wiccans of the Middle Ages, Lucinda Gainey, Kacey Reynolds Schedler and Arin Dickson are depicted as respected elder women in their community—counselors and healers who nonetheless must practice their faith in private. Just as strikingly, the trio is not always in accord—not when the credits list one as Macbeth's crone, another as Banquo's and a third as Macduff's, all contenders to the throne.
A triumphant performance in the title role lays to rest any lingering questions about actor Wade Newhouse's range. Under Blum's direction, this dark sovereign delves into an increasingly Nixonian paranoia, as Benji Jones expertly explores the monstrous ambitions of his wife. It is fitting when each horrifies the other at different points as their grip on events—and sanity—slowly gives way.
Actors including Seth Blum and Heather J. Strickland provide strong support, and Jason Tyne-Zimmerman's double duty as the comic porter and a harried Seyton stands out. Byron Jennings was notable as Lennox in June; Allan Maule takes his place this week.
The director's strong sense of tableau capitalizes on her multigenerational cast. In this Macbeth, the adolescents and kids on stage not only reinforce the sense of community; they also remind us of everything their parents had to lose in that time of war. Recommended.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Return of the Mac."