Macbeth — Press

Rude Mechanicals put new twist on Shakespeare’s Scottish Play

Troupe focuses on darkness of “Macbeth”

by Kirsty Groff Gazette Staff writer

The Rude Mechanicals hope to prove that there’s always something new to discover about Shakespeare with their take on the Bard’s play, beginning Aug. 15.

“Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness,” explores the classic play with fresh eyes, a technique commonly used by the Rude Mechanicals over the last 15 years since the troupe’s first show.

“We have this approach where we forget it’s been performed for 400 years — we forget the traditions and really look at the text as if it were a brand new play,” said director Joshua Engel. “That stripped-down version really lets us get at what we think is the heart of the play — it’s not just yet another version.”

“Macbeth” tells the story of Macbeth and his wife, the prophecies of witches and the consequences of pursuing power. Urged on by Lady Macbeth, the titular character kills the man in his way of the Scotland throne, an act that paves the way for increasingly worse acts of violence and tragedy.

This will be the third “Macbeth” production in Rude Mechanicals’ history — the play itself is a bit of a touchstone for several core members of the troupe, as their initial take in their second year introduced artistic director and producer Jaki Demarest to the company.

Engel played the wounded soldier, while actor Alan Duda had five lines toward the end. Almost 15 years later, Duda and Demarest — off-stage partners — take up the leads of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The intimacy and relationships between the three, along with the other members of the Rude Mechanicals, add an extra dimension to the play.

“There’s this real compassion and affection between the two that you don’t really see in other ‘Macbeth’ productions,” Engel said. “It’s very easy to present Lady Macbeth as this monstrous, domineering woman and Macbeth as either a victim or monster himself. I wanted to find the humanity in those two roles, and through their acting the audience will feel about the characters the way Alan and Jaki feel about each other.”

“The trust, the affection, the partnership – everything that personifies the Macs is something Alan and I bring to this for free,” Demarest added.

The performance of Lady Macbeth is also strengthened by Demarest’s passion for the role – one she’s been itching to play since childhood. When she was young, she spent her nap time devouring anything she could find, including a volume of Shakespeare’s plays she still refers to today.

“I picked it up and read it, and before I knew what half the words meant I knew I loved the sound of the language, the ebb and flow of every syllable engaged me,” she said. “I read all the plays I could get my hands on, but my favorite was always ‘Macbeth’ and my favorite character was always Lady Macbeth.”

This iteration of the role incorporated marked differences from what theatergoers may come to expect from productions of The Scottish Play. Engel’s take emphasizes the theme of darkness throughout the text, resulting in his Lady Macbeth being blind — and therefore the character most accustomed to the dark.

Engel assures that he has not added lines to the play, and that all of the adjustments to setting and characterization — Duda’s Macbeth starts out more self-doubting than traditional takes — are in keeping with an unbiased reading of the original text, changes he recognizes could alienate some.

“If a play isn’t taking the risk that it could fail, then it can’t really succeed,” he said. “I don’t want to put on an artistically safe production.”

His risks underwent a trial run during the Rude Mechanical’s production of the play at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival. Though he never reads reviews himself, he heard from others that a problem reviewers at the festival had was that Macbeth did not fit into the warrior, self-assured man they were used to seeing in the role — mission accomplished for Engel.

By eschewing the centuries of tradition attached to Shakespeare’s plays and other classic works, the Rude Mechanicals allow audiences to experience an old work of theater as if it were brand new, taking the text places other companies haven’t allowed it to travel.

“I’ve found that the plays often end up leading you places where you didn’t expect to go, and give you the most interesting shows,” Engel said. “I think that’s why we’re still doing these shows 400 years after the playwright dies.”

‘Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness’ at The Rude Mechanicals

by Evan Milberg, DC Metro Theatre Arts

Macbeth, a classic Shakespearean tale of one man’s quest for Scotland’s reign and the lengths he is willing to go for it, is often performed melodramatically with flawed characters that passionately struggle with their inner demons. For many, it would be an easy choice to portray the characters as malevolent, sociopathic monsters willing to murder in order to fulfill the witches’ prophecies. However, in The Rude Mechanicals’ production of Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness, Director Joshua Engel illustrated Macbeth in a more human light than we normally see him, and we see the affection that exists between Macbeth and his Lady. Fresh from this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, this production of Macbeth is powerful and unique.

Alan Duda (Macbeth) and Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth). Photo by  Jae Robinson.

Alan Duda (Macbeth) and Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth). Photo by Jae Robinson.

The title character was played gracefully by Alan Duda. His performance combined power with subtlety in a way that uniquely made Engel’s version of Macbeth more of an Everyman than a hallowed war hero on a path to destruction.

Creatively, Engel centered the production around the motif of darkness leading to ignorance and superstition. His decision to blindfold Lady Macbeth for the entirety of the show was a smart way of showing her comfort with darkness and the unknown. As the show progressed, the blindfold gradually appears to become a part of her, almost as if it would be strange to see her without it.

Jaki Demarest did a wonderful job of embracing the darkness in her portrayal of Lady Macbeth. She was incredibly comfortable in her own skin and made great active choices in interpreting the physicality of the character. Her energy never lagged and despite not being able to see her surroundings, she maintained great chemistry with Duda.

Marlow Vilchez gave a well-rounded performance as Banquo. He intonated well and played the character with a remarkable sense of balance. One thing actors must always develop within their character is a strong sense of time and place. Out of every character in the show, Vilchez had the best sense of his relationship to other characters.

The trio of Ross, Malcolm, and Macduff, acted respectively by Holly Trout, Evan Ockershausen, and Michael C. Robinson, played well off each other, particularly in their efforts to vanquish Macbeth toward the end of the show. Though only on stage for a short time, Sam David as Lady Macduff gave a heartfelt performance with a level of nuance usually reserved for films. Another character whose time on stage was short-lived was Duncan, played by Michael McCarthy, and McCarthy took full advantage of every minute he was on stage.

Another group that worked well together was the trio of Rebecca Speas, Diane Samuelson, and Lauren Beward as the witches. The three were not afraid to experiment with varying vocal and physical levels. They used every corner of the stage and moved with purpose, exuding “evil” with every step.

One of the highlights of the show was Melissa Schick breaking the fourth wall as the Porter. She singled out three members of the audience from each side of the black box to interact as candidates for admission into Hell. Her scene incorporated an element of well-timed crude humor almost reminiscent of Scapino from the Commedia dellarte era of Italian theatre.

The technical elements of the show were effective as well. In a small black box setting, the fog from the witches’ scenes permeated the audience, making one feel a part of the darkness that Engel was aiming for. To contrast with the darkness, Lighting Designer Irene Sitoski created a bright white silhouette of the dagger that Macbeth longs to clutch, but then fades. Sitoski also was responsible for the hints of purple and blue light during most of the dialogue, which fits nicely with the theme of darkness.

From left to right, Holly Trout (Ross), Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth), Alan Duda (Macbeth), Michael Robinson (Duncan), Evan Ockershausen (Malcolm), and Marlowe Vilchez (Banquo). Photo by Jae Robinson.

From left to right, Holly Trout (Ross), Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth), Alan Duda (Macbeth), Michael Robinson (Duncan), Evan Ockershausen (Malcolm), and Marlowe Vilchez (Banquo). Photo by Jae Robinson.

Sound Designer Eric Honour did a good job of making the background sound creepy, but not overbearing. The set itself was no more than a throne at upstage center, but for the purpose of a black box, it worked.

The costumes, designed by Moira Parham and Trevor Jones, gave the show a sense of neutrality in terms of time depiction. The show could’ve been set in the 1600s or the 1900s depending on your worldview. The climatic fight scene at the end, as choreographed by Erin McDonald, was entertaining and well-blocked.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Scene Stealers-Week Ending August 17, 2014

by Joel Markowitz, DC Metro Theatre Arts

Jaki Demarest as Lady Macbeth in the Sleepwalking Scene (Act V Scene I) in Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness at The Rude Mechanicals

Alan Duda (Macbeth) and Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth). Photo by  Jae Robinson.

Alan Duda (Macbeth) and Jaki Demarest (Lady Macbeth). Photo by Jae Robinson.

Blindfolded during the performance, Jaki Demarest did a wonderful job of embracing the darkness in her portrayal of Lady Macbeth. She was incredibly comfortable in her own skin and made great active choices in interpreting the physicality of the character. Her energy never lagged and despite not being able to see her surroundings, she maintained great chemistry with [Alan] Duda. Demarest was at her best while writhing in the cold-hearted plotting of King Duncan’s murder and later during the famous “Sleepwalking Scene’:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power
to account?—Yet who would have thought the old
man to have had so much blood in him?

Review: Macbeth- The Instruments of Darkness at The Rude Mechanicals

by Amanda N. Gunther, TheatreBloom

Light and darkness make fools both of the eyes. But it is oft better to live in the bliss of darkness than in the harsh intelligence of the light for once a thing is known and learned it can never be unknown. The Rude Mechanicals illustrate this concept with exception as their bring their 2014 Capital Fringe Festival production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness to the Greenbelt Arts Center for a limited five show engagement. Directed by Joshua Engel, this production presents the infamous tragedy in a striking new light.

Banquo (L- Marlowe Vilchez) and Macbeth (Alan Duda)Justifiably Jae
Banquo (L- Marlowe Vilchez) and Macbeth (Alan Duda)
The productions main themes are tied up in the creative work of Lighting Designer Irene Sitoski. Highlighting the notion that darkness is ignorance at least in regards to knowing the events that are unfolding around the characters, Sitoski plays with shadows and spotlights, pulling characters in and out of them as they become aware of the situation. King Duncan and the others not on the initial side of the murderous Macbeths start out and often remain in shadow and fog; distorting the metaphysical representation of how they see him and his wife as well as literally obscuring their vision. Sitoski takes great pains to balance out intense moments where the title character delivers text in a heated spotlight, the brightness equaling bursts of his understanding as he progresses. Her most intriguing and impressive feat is her work with the dagger-scene; a well-recognized turning point in the production that glows with symbolic intensity.

Director Joshua Engel takes the notions of ignorance in darkness one step further by creating a foil to the theme in Lady Macbeth. In a fascinating approach to diminish the generally explosive character, Engel presents Lady M as blind. At first the character choice seems random and unfocused, but as the play progresses it becomes painstakingly clear that she is the inverse representation of the show’s central conceit; one born in ignorance can forge knowledge in darkness, never needing the light for enlightenment.

Engel has cleaved the essence of the story’s plot and other themes down from four acts into 75 minutes. While Shakespearean purists may find this approach unsettling, the fact remains that the story in its essential entirety is delivered in this time-frame. With only 12 actors, Engel does a remarkable job of trimming the Bard’s excess into a workable format for his concept. There are never moments when the plot itself feels rushed or the character development feels cheated.

That said, there are places where a bit more elaboration and expounding upon certain elements could have stood to help his production. The main issue is the infusive doubling of the witches. Three woman— who in essence become a host of other characters like the murderers, Lady M’s chamber maids, and the wounded soldier and company from the beginning of the play— serve as the representation of the witches. There are moments occasionally peppered throughout the production where these three women jump quite quickly from being an alternative set of characters into the witches and back and at times the transition is not as effective as it could be. The scene that comes to mind is during the attack on Banquo and Fleance. In a longer production, where the witches have more time in these moments, this concept could be more fully executed to its brilliant potential.

Two of the three Witches- (L- Lauren Beward and R- Diane Samuelson)Justifiably Jae
Two of the three Witches- (L- Lauren Beward and R- Diane Samuelson)
Rebecca Speas, Diane Samuelson, and Lauren Beward represent the trio of fates, with Samuelson in the lead of them. The noted cauldron scene becomes a fascinating horror show as the girls spin round the cauldron, linked and entwined with one another in a gruesome and almost grotesque fashion. Samuelson’s movements are startling to say the least, her body contorting and twisting in ways that no earthbound body was meant to move. This adds a perceptive level of spiritual evil to the character as a whole and makes her stand out the most in scenes where she makes her witch-to-human transitions.

The other major issue with the production is the underscored soundscape. Sound Designer Eric Honour creates original orchestrations to compliment the tension built into the scenes by Engel and the actors, but most of these arrangements are played too softly and go unheard. There are times when the music sounds like background distraction because it is unclear if it is meant to be playing or left on by mistake. In adjusting to the new venue, from the Fringe adaptation, this is problem that will no doubt resolve itself before the end of the run.

Costume Designer Moira Parham crafts care into her construction of the costumes, again finding weaving symbolism into her design work. Parham outfits the Macduff clan with bright green and gold-accented sashes, the complete opposite of the traditional, albeit faded, tartan beige sashes used to represent the house of Macbeth. It’s Parham’s rags for the witches that make her genius clearly visible. Knowing that the trio of fates can see the future and know the inevitable ruin that is to come, Parham outfits them in blood-faded tartan shreds of fabric— the most literal representation of the play’s bloody end as if they traveled into the future and returned wearing its remnants.

The other absolutely striking creative element about the production is the fighting. Choreographed by Erin MacDonald, Engel’s vision of bloody battle comes to fruition with some of the sharpest and cleanly executed moves to be witnessed in any area Shakespearean production as of late. The simplistic yet effective routines inlaid by MacDonald give the audience a healthy dose of believable violence; the perfect notion for rounding out this flash-version of the Scottish tragedy.

(l to r) Ross (Holly Trout) Lady Macbeth (Jaki Demarest) Macbeth (Alan Duda) Macduff (Michael C. Robinson) Malcom (Evan Ockershausen) and Banquo (Marlowe Vilchez.)Justifiably Jae
(l to r) Ross (Holly Trout) Lady Macbeth (Jaki Demarest) Macbeth (Alan Duda) Macduff (Michael C. Robinson) Malcom (Evan Ockershausen) and Banquo (Marlowe Vilchez.)
The performances on the whole in the production are strong. Minor characters take their moments to shine. Lady Macduff (Sam David) and Macduff’s daughter (Rebecca Korn) for example, have but a moment upon the stage and yet their brief interactions during the traitor conversation and the grisly attack that follows are both intense, and memorable. Macduff (Michael C. Robinson) is treated in a similar fashion; though his scenes be brief, his agony is delivered with memorable intensity; a remarkable final scene when striking out for his vengeance.

The same is said of Banquo (Marlowe Vilchez) whose role has been whittled down to fit the shortened format of the production. Vilchez’ performance is striking for how little time his character appears in the show. Ironically enough it is after his imminent death that he becomes most noticeable; a gory representation of text drawing to life from description to reality. Ross (Holly Trout) and Malcolm (Evan Ockershausen) also make their presences felt during their brief exposures to the stage, particularly Trout with her discovery of Duncan. It becomes a company effort to make each of these roles still feel realistic in the truncated version of the play; an effort at which they succeed greatly.

Macbeth (Alan Duda) is being portrayed the likes of which have never previously been seen. Under Engel’s carefully calculated direction, Duda unveils the uncertain ground upon which the character is always standing. There are moments of intense emotional outburst that do shake through the character, but ultimately the audience is left experiencing a subdued version of the title character. This is not to say that Duda performs poorly, though at times he does appear briefly lost inside the character’s mind. Boldly forcing a shift in focus from Macbeth to Lady Macbeth with this approach, Duda allows Macbeth to have a softness within him, making his peril a much more sympathetic journey; in essence humanizing the character.

As for Lady Macbeth (Jaki Demarest) the tables are turned entirely. One might think that with Macbeth being played with subtly and humanity that this might exponentially further the madness and extreme outbursts with which Lady M is played. Demarest is a stricken woman who portrays the character’s deep seeded— and oft well hidden— insecurities in their full honesty.

Jaki Demarest as Lady MacbethJustifiably Jae
Jaki Demarest as Lady Macbeth
Praying to the Gods to unsex her is one of the more recognizable monologues attributed to the character in the play, which Demarest does with a fiery intensity. What she also does is follows through with this point to the end in her vulnerably exposed decline of the character. Despite Lady Macbeths demands, wishes, and prayers, the gods fail to deliver and leave her a woman. Demarest exposes this feminine fault at perfectly punctuated moments throughout the performance, deteriorating before the eyes of the audience in a demure fashion. This furthers the irony of the overall concept of the show for as she is brought out of darkness, the world she has always known, the knowledge of light destroys her very being.


It is a fascinating concept, with well-rounded performances, and intriguing notions of thematic layered thoroughly throughout; well worth venturing out for. Don’t miss the limited revival engagement this summer.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission

Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness plays through August 23, 2014 at The Rude Mechanicals Greenbelt Arts Center— 123 Centerway in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets call (301) 441-8770 or purchase them online.

Review: Macbeth- The Instruments of Darkness at The Rude Mechanicals reviewed by on August 18, 2014 rated 4.0 on 5.0

Macbeth’s Great but also Laughter

by Jim Link, Greenbelt News Review

In the ominous, duplicitous, murderous nightmare that is Shakespeare’s Macbeth, fear and ambiguity are ratcheted up to a torturous intensity. Always “fair is foul and foul is fair” and “nothing is but what is not.” Into this murky cesspool of bloody ambition The Rude Mechanicals have injected their signature irreverence, boldly reimagining the Scottish play in startling and even hilarious ways. The appreciative opening night audience of almost 80 may have “supped full of horrors” like Macbeth himself but they also laughed heartily.

This production, now at the Greenbelt Arts Center, is fast, furious and minimalist; only 75 minutes with no intermission, it is swift indeed. The setting consists entirely of a throne. No tables, chairs, swords, no witches’ cauldrons or lavish apparel, no Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane. Every actor is costumed in military olive drab; they accessorize themselves slightly with Scottish sashes and a cape or two.

Pure severity.

Three risky innovations enliven this Rude production – all of which succeeded wonderfully.

First, Lady Macbeth is depicted as blind. Kudos to Director Joshua Engel for discerning that she is “one character who is comfortable with the darkness . . . darkness gives rise to ignorance. What you can’t see can hurt you. I wanted to strip the play of its accumulated traditions and see it with fresh eyes,” Engel said.

Jaki Demarest as Lady Macbeth is a laughing, seductive, chilling, ruthless prod to Macbeth’s initial hesitancy. “I’ve been dreaming of playing this role since I was seven – no, seriously,” said Demarest.

Next, the prophesying witches are not bearded old crones – hardly. Lauren Beward, Diane Samuelson and Rebeca Speas are lithe, nubile and seductively equivocal as they writhe and dance their way into Macbeth’s psyche and libido.

Alan Duda is a formidable and nuanced Macbeth. He beautifully punctuates his descent into weary nihilism in his “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy when he emphasizes that “life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who STRUTS and FRETS his hour upon the stage.”

He and Demarest have a strong chemistry between them. Demarest is skillful enough to plot Duncan’s murder, to screw Macbeth’s courage to the sticking point while laughing, kissing, fondling her husband. Intimacy and steeliness – a delicate maneuver effectively carried off.

Poor Duda – he must succumb to his Lady’s blandishments as well as the whispers and caresses of his bare-midriffed witches. A man must suffer for his art and Duda does a good job of it.

Drunken Porter
A third Rude innovation is the inspired casting of Melissa Schick as the drunken porter. She is brilliantly hilarious as she riffs on the equivocal effects of alcohol – it stimulates sexual desire as it curbs its fulfilment. She aggressively demonstrates her point to Macduff by embracing him – by jumping his bones in fact. Melissa Schick has more attitude than Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids.

Another nod in the direction of female agency is given to Lady Macduff (Sam David). Joshua Engel lets her flatten her three assassins – with a spatula no less – before they eventually bump her off. David says she is delighted to show off her “inner badass.”

Curiously, all the assassins, including Banquo’s (but not Duncan’s, of course) are played by women, coached by fight choreographer Erin MacDonald. In Shakespeare’s time no woman played a woman’s part. In this exciting production, women play both the women and men; they slay, seduce, plot, prophesy and die. We or rather they – have come a long way, baby.

The only two shows left are on Friday, August 22 and Saturday, August 23 at 8 p.m.