Pigeon Creek gets it in gear with 'Macbeth'

By Bridgette M. Redman

It was a steamy night at Dog Story Theater.
From the gears on the swords to the goggles and aviator caps to the scorching vibes pulsating between a sultry Lady Macbeth and a once-noble Macbeth, Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company's production of this Shakespeare classic at the Dog Story space captured the steam-punk theme without ever going over-the-top with it.
The balance created a visual aperitif without ever drowning out the story or forcing the ageless tale to bend overmuch for the sake of ingenuity. The Sisters are still weird. The dagger still floats invisible before Macbeth. The riddles of Birnam Wood and a man of no woman born still confound this fallen hero. Murder and ambition are still the ruling class, and there are some stains that no amount of invention can wash away.
What truly turned the gears of the production were the relationships between the characters. They worked and were believable. There was real steam between the title characters. There was friendly comradeship between Banquo and Macbeth. The witches had a tight sisterhood that nothing could crack, until Hecate's presence bows them into submission.
The women of this production are the driving force, the ones whose hands are on the cranks, inventing anew a framework to contain the familiar words and story. The genius in the production is Katherine Mayberry's Lady Macbeth. Her expedition is one from cruelty to madness, with her love for her husband and ambition powering each step. She machinates. She lusts. She drives her husband to perform her will.
Kathleen Bode, Dynasty Huckleby and Sarah Stark command the stage as their black and red-bedecked witches, each creating their own physicality that writhed and seduced, putting a supernatural stranglehold on a world given over to the hopes of technology They danced in perfect coordination, spoke in harmony, and created chaos in the world where order failed.
As is the norm for a Peppermint Creek production, each actor filled multiple roles with the exception of Macbeth himself. The three sisters were constantly changing costumes and demeanor, with Stark returning as a murderer and a doctor, Bode as the innocent and simpering Lady Macduff, and Huckleby as the Thane of Menteith, a murderer and the falsely accused prince, Donalbain. Even Mayberry doubles as Young Macduff, played most often from her knees while wearing an aviator hood.
Scott Lange's Macbeth was strongest in the first half. This is a Macbeth you could love. He was heroic, human and flawed. He was haunted by his misdeeds, and takes us down a journey where we see him falling slowly, inevitably and with building momentum. Once he fell, though, he didn't become a Macbeth you could hate. Rather he was the figure of a skilled actor deliberately making competent choices, but without the passion or emotion that he previously exhibited. The "out, brief candle" speech was a well-delivered monologue that lacked the intensity he'd previously shown for his partner and soul mate. He barely registered her death and mourned it not at all.
Scott Wright's Macduff was too angry too fast. He turned too soon against Macbeth. It wasn't a journey, it was an about-face that showed he had read the end of the play.
Contrasting this was Steven Schwall's Duncan, who openly bestowed enthusiastic favor on Macbeth, and set up all that was to come in letting the audience see how far the beloved hero would fall. He also made an amusing return as the Porter, engaging the audience as he portered hells' gates.
Kat Hermes, who is one of the company's finest gender benders, gave an energetic performance as Fleance, but failed to inspire as Malcolm. Sean Kelly's Banquo swung easily from the down-to-earth friend to the threatening ghost, and he created each role with comfort.
This ensemble-directed production spread the tasks of costuming and other technical duties among the cast, with the costume design falling to Rosalind Srb. Srb found the perfect touch to create the impression of steam punk without making it a play about the costumes. The color theme fit the genre, as did the shape of the clothes and the accoutrements of this popular fantasy period. The piece de resistance was Lady Macbeth's hat, a jaunty, miniature top hat worn pinned to the side with dark flowers matching her dress and that of the witches.
"Macbeth" is an oft-told tale done in many different fashions. Pigeon Creek deserves applause for finding a way to infuse it with a new look while never departing from the story or trying to force things into mismatched choices. This "Macbeth" is a solid production that is moving and entertaining. The cast is skilled and all of them are devoted to the ensemble task of bringing Shakespeare to a new generation in a way that is engaging and compelling.

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company at Dog Story Theatre, 7 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday & 2 p.m. Sunday through April 28. 2 hours, 18 minutes. $7-14.


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