For a while this month, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland. But, not to worry, it’s only for a short time and, of course, order will be restored.
In honor of the “First Folio” exhibit of Shakespeare’s work which is currently on display at the Portland Public Library, Bare Portland, a local performance collaborative, has put together an unusual, four-woman production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and staged it in the venerable place of worship on State Street.
The Bard’s tragedy about “vaulting ambition” and its consequences is a rough one. It all may amount to “a tale told by an idiot” but it’s been spooking audiences for centuries and this production is no exception. Cast members play multiple parts and scenes are set all over the gothic-style nave. Live, original trio music adds to the power of this pared-down production which runs just over an hour.
JJ Peeler takes the lead role and, though the “Macbeth’s greatest hits” nature of this shortened version may cause her to occasionally charge a bit headlong into her role, she certainly delivers on the feverishly obsessive side of Macbeth. Whether trying to fight off visions of daggers or recoiling from the prophesies of those famous witches, the grip of urgency and despair was evident in her performance on Sunday.
Marjolaine Whittlesey, as the murderously manipulative Lady Macbeth, was convincing in her character’s visceral drive to take whatever action was necessary to help her husband reach the throne. Her mad attempts to expunge her guilt were striking.
Mnemosyne Heileman and Mackenzie O’Connor filled important secondary roles, among them Macduff and Banquo, respectively. Both also contributed in major ways to the lighter moments in the show. O’Connor was a hoot as the rascally Porter, engaging with audience members as she held court in the aisle and Heileman embodied a deliciously affected Duncan.
The famous “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene threatened but didn’t quite go over the top as three masked witches menacingly mixed up a brew accompanied by otherworldly instrumental flourishes.
In general, composer Denis Nye’s music, performed by Nye (piano), John Highstreet (trombone) and Sam Schuth (violin), explored the far reaches of modernism, with ominous drones and unsettling laments punctuated by dissonant outbursts designed to fit the most dramatic moments.
Co-directors Carmen-maria Mandley and James Patefield have their Macbeth hitting most of the important notes in a play which normally runs at least twice as long. Staging it as they did in a church served the story well, not only by surrounding the audience with the action but also in situating the spirit within Shakespeare’s work. Employing an all-woman cast has suggested new paths of interpretation to follow.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.