Out, Damned Sneak!

Oct 5, 2009 at 6:30 pm
Show: St. Louis Shakespeare's cunning blood-n-gore production of Macbeth, a terrific play about terrible people.

Food: Globe Theatre Apple-Hazelnut Tart, baked by yours truly.

Difficulty: Extreme. While the initial sneak phases of repackaging the food in aluminum foil and taking it into the theater were easy, the tart recipe had to be significantly altered to be appropriate for sneaking, and even then its deliciously crumbly crust nearly blew the whole operation. Close quarters and bright lighting in the Grandel Theater also made me feel like I was being impolite by not offering my neighbor a slice.

Apples, pears, oranges, pastries, roasted meat and nuts: all things eaten and/or thrown at the actors during plays at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. A single penny dropped into a wooden box would let you stand in the yard with the rest of the groundlings for the afternoon show in the open amphitheater. Raining? Too bad, and you probably needed a bath, anyway. Illiterate? Join the club. For just a few pence more, you could get an entire meal from vendors wandering around inside the theater or from stalls set up just outside. Truly, it was a golden age of the nexus of eating and entertainment.

click to enlarge Bubble, bubble, sneaking and trouble
Bubble, bubble, sneaking and trouble
St. Louis Shakespeare's production of Macbeth is well-matched to the text: It's a story of embers of ambition fanned into a consuming crescendo of conflagration, lean and muscular. One of Shakespeare's shortest plays, it coyly places the Act II murder of King Duncan, the event that shifts the rest of the action from history to tragedy, off-stage. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wander onstage from the scene of the grisly crime covered in blood and have varying stages of total nervous breakdown about something that's never shown. Every other murder in the play after Macbeth becomes king -- friends, enemies, women, children -- are presented onstage, with mounting cruelty and indifference, showing exactly how quickly ambition can turn an honest man into a monster.

The staging of this production was perfectly suited to the material. Athletic, not only in interesting choreographed fight scenes where bright sparks sometimes fly off the clashing edges of weapons, but also in the way Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of Banquo, his murdered former friend. This is no Scooby-Doo ghost who clanks his chains and runs three steps behind through and endless corridor, but one that chases you over the table, chokes you, then slices your throat as the blood from his mortal wounds glistens in the stage lights.

A particularly clever twist in this version: Before intermission, the audience sees what Macbeth sees when the ghost of Banquo comes for him in his feasting hall; after intermission, the same scene is repeated as the banquet guests see it, with only Macbeth running around the dining room like the raving lunatic he is. Everyone in this production, including Lady Macbeth, projects an aura of physicality that makes it utterly believable that they are battle-ready warriors locked in mutual combat, often quite literally.

The first scenes are slow, lots of exposition about a war fought off-stage and some staging choices made to spice up the opening scenes actually made the dialogue difficult to understand. The best ideas were clearly saved for the unusual but incredibly effective ramped set design and the later, more dramatic, scenes. As such, there are two severed heads in the second half of the play, which I found rather satisfying -- and an excellent nod to events that are certain to take place after the play ends.