Fair is foul and foul is fair: ‘Macbeth’ tells a story of power, deception, betrayal

Two women wearing cloaks and crowns are on stage with one sitting on a table and the other standing behind her.
Madeleine Kerr HM ’20 and Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20 portray Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively, in Pomona College’s production of “Macbeth.” (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Amid the sound of thunder, three witches sweep the stage in their red and golden floor-length dresses. Under the illuminating, shadowy light, a witch opens the play with the infamous line: “When shall we three meet again / In lightning, thunder or in rain?”

As the trio foreshadows the bloodshed and battle that is yet to come, another witch delivers the lyrical death blow to the protagonist, mere seconds into the play: “There to meet with Macbeth.”

Helmed by guest director Diana Wyenn, “Macbeth” is being shown at Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre from March 5-8. The classic Shakespearean tragedy follows titular character Macbeth (Madeleine Kerr HM ’20) and his wife Lady Macbeth (Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20) as they embark on a relentless and vicious quest to seize the Scottish throne.

“Macbeth” may be a 17th century classic play, but Wyenn affirmed that the Pomona production wouldn’t be antiquated. 

“I wasn’t interested in [directing] Shakespeare as a relic of the past,” she said. “I was interested in what would happen if we, today, tackled this in the here and now.”

The play begins with the return of Macbeth and his fellow general Banquo (Berto Gonzalez PO ’20) to Scotland, after winning their most recent battle. Soon, the two generals are bequeathed by the three cunning, plotting witches’ prophecy that Macbeth is to become king in the future.

Thus begins Macbeth’s ambitious, bloodstained pursuit of the crown.

The conniving Lady Macbeth, with an even stronger desire for the throne, quickly convinces her husband to murder King Duncan (Maya Barbon PZ ’21), expediting the duo’s path to power. Vikram’s portrayal is forceful and biting; Lady Macbeth is unforgiving in her determination, until her accumulated guilt — embodied in her subconscious through sleepwalking — betrays her initial intentions.

Three people, two women and one man, stand on stage with their hands down.
Alex Collado PO ’20, Clara Grim SC ’22 and Isha Raj-Silverman PO ’22 depict witches in Pomona College’s production of “Macbeth.” (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Macbeth may succeed in ascending the throne, but it isn’t quite that simple. Hallucinations and ghosts incite fear in the now-crowned king, and the corresponding monologues are deftly delivered by Kerr with simultaneous anger, horror and guilt. It seems, hearing the passion in Kerr’s voice, that nothing can wash away the blood after all.

“Macbeth” thrives in a multitude of aspects, and highlights include the impressive monologues, unexpected musical transitions, the ensemble’s sword fights and dancing frenzies, as well as the witches’ eery and high-pitched tones.

Despite being a 400-year-old play, the overarching themes of “Macbeth” remain as modern as ever, especially considering the U.S.’ current political climate.

Scotland, as it exists in the play, is a country in the midst of a civil war, one that is tearing itself apart from within, as Wyenn described. But this inner turmoil isn’t so unfamiliar here in the U.S. — after all, the same fraught political dynamic is reflected in today’s society.

“[It] sounds a lot like our country right now, where … things are incredibly fractured,” Wyenn said. “And we know that the Russians are attacking our voting system. So [the political nature of this play] isn’t something that is so foreign or old or any of those kinds of things.”

This production of “Macbeth” didn’t hesitate to push traditional boundaries. With a cast of 70 percent women and non-binary students, the cast and crew reflected on how gender affects the characters and discussed updating pronouns.

Kerr, who uses the pronouns she/her/hers, opted to keep the original he/him/his pronouns for Macbeth. 

“It was hard for me at first, [because] I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I have to make a big decision about what this character’s gender will be,’” she said. “The more I kept thinking about gender, it was just getting convoluted. And I felt like I was losing what is the text and what is the character.”

As a result, Kerr felt that keeping he/him/his pronouns for Macbeth was the best choice for her as an actor. Other pronouns, however, were changed — Barbon’s King Duncan used she/her/hers, for example. Macduff (Rieanna Duncan PO ’21), originally a male character with a wife and son, instead had a husband and daughter in this production.

Aside from its relevance to today’s society, “Macbeth” deserves praise for its creative elements. According to Wyenn, the set and sound were both influenced by Daoism, with the octagon stage taking inspiration from the bagua, which represents the eight Daoist fundamental principles of reality.

Furthermore, the earth, metal, fire, water and air elements all were part of the sound design, which afforded the play a sense of groundedness in reality.

Given that “Macbeth” is about sacrificing everything in the fight for power, the elements serve as a juxtaposition that reminds the audience of the need for dynamic balance in society. If there’s one message that Wyenn hopes to convey with the production, it’s “the danger of someone seeking power … and [how] the ripple effects of that can destroy the lives of thousands, if not more.”

Macbeth is currently being showcased at Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre from March 5-8. General admission tickets ($11) and student, staff, faculty and senior tickets ($6) can be purchased online.

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