Review: MACBETH at Oak Park Festival Theatre

Review: MACBETH at Oak Park Festival Theatre

Pictured: Christopher Jones and Matthew Fahey. Photo by Johnny Knight. 

By Elizabeth Ellis

The usual idea of Shakespeare in the park conjures up images of balmy summer evenings with soft blankets spread on the grass, picnics with chilled white wine and cheese and nibbles, and a pleasant performance of a familiar classic. If that’s how you imagine the Oak Park Festival Theatre’s production of MACBETH, jettison all your ideas, except for the picnic, because this superb, magnificently creepy production is one of the best interpretations of the Scottish play in this area in years.

Matthew Fahey’s fearsome Macbeth begins as an earnest and loyal soldier, but quickly, seamlessly, and excellently becomes seduced and corrupted by the potential and proximity of power. Melanie Keller’s steely yet Lady M is caught in the murderous web of her own making, and despite her gracious turn as the consort of the future King, her panic at the realization of her hand in the treachery ends in a heartbreaking collapse and loss of her mind. Elyse Dawson, Savanna Rae, and Mark Lancaster, resembling Picts with their woad tattoos, and goths with their black makeup and ripped black costumes, create the darkest and most frightening trio of Weird Sisters I’ve ever seen onstage. Their eerie sorcery and malevolent acts bring the perfect counterpoint of supernatural to the plotting and scheming occurring in the rest of the play. Bryan Wakefield, Christopher W. Jones, Matt Gall, and Sean William Kelly lead the rest of the ensemble in terrific performances, and Wakefield’s Banquo’s ghost strikes a particularly eerie note.    

Barbara Zahora’s taut and skillful direction focuses attention on the language of the play, and beautifully finds the moments of humor that allow a release from the more tense moments in the action. Michael Lasswell’s evocative set looks to have been hewn directly from damp Scottish stone, which gives the feeling that the players actually inhabit the space rather than simply perform on it. George Zahora’s modern yet traditionally influenced sound design offers a fresh take on 11th century Scotland with pipes, flutes, and drums, and perfectly creates a haunting background to Dunsinane Hill.

This shortest and bloodiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, in less capable hands, could easily have devolved into a gory series of fights and frights for an evening of silly summer fun. But the talented cast and crew at OPFT have created a fantastic and memorable show for any season. Pack yourself a picnic, head over to Austin Gardens, and visit medieval Scotland to see one of the highlights of this summer.

MACBETH runs through July 22nd. For more information visit oakparkfestival.com.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City’s Children’s Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London’s Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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