It takes all of five minutes for a fight to break out. As the lights dim in the grand Lyric Theatre, a bass-driven rock song blares and cast members in dystopian military garb rush the stage. A battle ensues, and only the strong survive.
Such a violent beginning for WallByrd's latest show, "Macbeth," establishes two things right away. First, someone at WallByrd (likely, Artistic Director Virginia Monte) understands the same thing a good journalist knows: "if it bleeds, it leads"; and second, this isn't your average Shakespeare. This is Shakespeare for the next generation.
Most audience members will be familiar with the plot of "Macbeth," whether they read it in high school or watched the "Wishbone" version on PBS at some point. The tragic tale follows power-hungry Macbeth, a Scottish general, and his equally ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth. After a trio of witches foretells Macbeth's future as King of Scotland, he and the lady decide to hasten the prophecy by removing the king. Civil War quickly ensues under Macbeth's tyranny, and forces of darkness overtake the kingdom.
Because Shakespeare's work is in the public domain, many theater companies take the opportunity to update or adapt the work to a different era or concept. (A recent example is the Public Theater's much-debated Shakespeare in the Park production of "Julius Caesar," which depicted a modern-day Rome and a Caesar much like President Trump.) WallByrd's version of "Macbeth" is post-apocalyptic, inspired by the 1979 and 2015 "Mad Max" films in both aesthetic and tone.
In other words, Shakespearean purists beware: this isn't The Bard's 17th century world. It's WallByrd's world now, and it asks the audience to suspend disbelief; to coexist with giant puppets and gender-blind casting. For those who are willing to do so, the reward is a show unlike anything else currently onstage.
Like most of WallByrd's (and Shakespeare's) shows, "Macbeth" is a lengthy run -- two hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission -- but the show keeps a consistent pace. The cast features more than 25 people, ranging in age, and many of the cast members fill multiple ensemble roles. The lead roles are packed with talent, a necessity whenever Shakespeare is performed. In this adaptation, the actors had the challenge of the language, the fight choreography (directed by professional Alec Barbour), characterization, and the set (which many in the cast had to climb and jump from throughout the show).
Andy Head (as Macbeth) and Megan Barbour (Lady Macbeth), both highly trained actors, deliver outstanding performances and embody the iconic characters with a chemistry and energy that is captivating throughout the show. In the role of Banquo, recent Nazareth College graduate Ged Owen possesses a quiet intensity and stage presence beyond his years of experience. Jonathan Lowery, who plays Lennox, steals the show during battle scenes with his fluid, expert movement (no surprise, considering he's a member of PUSH Physical Theatre). Lauren MacDonough (Menteith) elicits chills with a short, eerily beautiful a cappella song. The entire cast, overall, remains impressively in character and focused throughout the performance -- a rare feat for a non-professional troupe.
According to its fundraising page on Fractured Atlas (a nonprofit crowdfunding platform for artists), WallByrd's budget for the show was projected around $30,000. That's easy to believe, based on a set featuring extensive scaffolding rentals that provide multiple levels onstage; advanced lighting equipment; and extensive sound design that incorporates mics for the actors and a full soundtrack.
The stage resembles a fallout shelter, while the costumes and makeup reflect aspects of military grunge, desert wear, and war paint. Monte also created several large puppets -- really, a more gruesome term would be fitting for these beings -- that add delightfully horrifying special effects to the show.
Live, local theater competes with multimillion-dollar film budgets, plot-heavy video games, and that supercomputer in everyone's pocket. For the next generation of theatergoers -- one that values experiences over material possessions -- immersive, sensory theater is a strategic move, and creating more of it will only advance Rochester's theater scene.