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Murder and magic mix in my favorite Shakespearean tragedy, "Macbeth," which Ohio Shakespeare Festival opened Aug. 5 on the grounds of Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron.
Shakespeare's take on the Scottish King, directed here by Terry Burgler, features Bernard Bygott and Lara Mielcarek as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Bygott does a remarkable job going from a noble character to one mad with power, and Mielcarek is fun to watch as the devious queen who realizes too late that she has made a monster of her husband. The entire cast was excellent. I especially enjoyed Joe Pine's Malcolm, particularly when he is testing Macduff, and Geoff Knox's Macduff, whose reactions when he finds out the fate of his family are heartwrending.
Special kudos must got to Ryan Zarecki (who also plays Banquo), who has served as fight choreographer for a number of years. The fight scenes for Ohio Shakspeare Festival's productions are always good, but the fight scenes in this production actually made me jump and cringe a few times, particularly the fight between Macbeth and Macduff. In addition, the costuming, particularly for the witches, was well done. I also loved the costuming and makeup for the ghost Banquo (as well as Zarecki's zombie-like shambling, which was downright creepy).
In the play, which is (very) loosely based on the Scottish King Macbeth (although it was written more as a tribute to James I of England, who was a direct descendent of Banquo), Macbeth, who at the beginning is the thane of Glamis, has covered himself in glory after a fierce battle. Duncan, the king of Scotland (Richard Figge) declares Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor, stripping the title from the previous thane, who had allied himself with Norway and Ireland against Scotland. Macbeth and his close friend Banquo, meanwhile, run into a trip of strange witches (Katie Zarecki, Jason Leupold and Kelsey Tomlinson), who greet Macbeth as the thane of Glamis, Cawdor, and as future king of Scotland. Banquo's descendents, the witches say, will be future kings.
Macbeth sends his wife tidings of the news in a message, but finds himself stumped when Duncan declares his older son Malcolm as the next in line. When Duncan and his retinue come to stay at the Macbeth castle shortly afterwards, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to murder the king. What transpires afterward is a slow descent into madness and paranoia for both, as Macbeth especially feels he needs to continuing killing people to keep himself -- and his crown -- safe.
Before the performances, which start at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, members of Ohio Shakespeare Festival perform a Greenshow at 7:30 p.m. I've said this before but it's worth repeating: catch the Greenshow if you can. This year, it's worth catching it for the "Hamilton" parody alone.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is at 714 N. Portage Path in Akron, and OSF's plays are staged rain or shine. Reservations may be made any time through OSF's web site at www.ohioshakespearefestival.com, or by calling the box office at 888-71-TICKETS daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., or noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.