Amidst thunder and lightning, three witches promise to meet again. King Duncan with his sons Malcolm and Donalbain discover that the Thane of Cawdor has betrayed the crown in a civil war. Duncan condemns the traitor and bestows his title on valorous captain Macbeth. Traveling with his friend Banquo, Macbeth knows nothing of the King's actions. He happens upon the three witches who greet him as Thane of Cawdor and future King. Banquo is not neglected in their vision: he shall father a new royal line. The men seek to know more but the supernatural sisters vanish. When Rosse and Angus notify Macbeth that the King has named him Thane of Cawdor, the mysterious prophecy is fulfilled. Duncan confirms the title in person and arranges to visit Macbeth's home to celebrate. Reading a letter from her husband, Lady Macbeth ponders the witches' prophecy. She calls upon invisible spirits to "unsex" her and to fill her with power and purpose. When her husband arrives, she suggests that Duncan's death while at Inverness could expedite his ascendance to the throne. The royal party celebrates the recent victories while Macbeth clandestinely weighs the benefits and consequences of regicide. In the still of the night, he steals into Duncan's room where the unsuspecting King sleeps. The murder accomplished, Lady Macbeth uses bloody swords to implicate Duncan's attendants in the crime. Arriving early the next morning to greet the King, Macduff is let into the castle by a drunken porter. He enters the King's room and discovers the royal corpse. While Duncan's retinue reels at this horror, Macbeth kills the attendants in supposed rage. Malcolm and Donalbain flee the country, leaving Macbeth as King. The crown does not sit easily upon his head. Fraught with paranoia, Macbeth sends three assassins after his confidant and companion, Banquo. After Banquo's death, Macbeth invites Rosse and Lennox again to Inverness for a banquet. During the meal Banquo's ghost appears and haunts the troubled King. Playing the diplomat, Lady Macbeth excuses her Lord's behavior. Rosse and Lennox are not convinced and suspect him of murderous acts. Plagued with unease and fright, Macbeth returns to the witches to placate his mind. The sisters present Macbeth with nightmarish images followed by a succession of regal specters. Interpreting this vision as signs of his downfall at Macduff's hands, he sends assassins to the nobleman's house: Macduff is absent but his wife and children are killed. A sleepwalking Lady Macbeth expresses regret and fear for the part she played in Duncan's murder. While Macbeth and his Lady fall deeper into despair and paranoia, the exiled Malcolm and Donalbain amass an army to overthrow his rule. Cornered in the same castle where he murdered the King, Macbeth must confront this powerful force to determine the fate of his reign.
Where some emphasize Macbeth's depiction of corruption and madness, director Sean Kelley sees the play as a fable, a morally instructive tale told over generations to a specific community. Three witches promise a man that he will be king. He takes action to ensure that their promise is fulfilled, even at the cost of murder and betrayal. It is a story told not just for the benefit of those present but also for those to come.
Shakespeare often receives praise as a universally accessible playwright whose poetry transcends national borders. In the context of the West (Europe/America) this may be true. Critic and scholar Harold Bloom argues that Shakespeare's work rivals the Bible in scope and influence: "I hardly see how one can begin to consider Shakespeare without finding some way to account for his pervasive presence in the most unlikely contexts: here, there, and everywhere at once." Armed with such omnipresence, directors have located the action of his plays in various western and non-western settings. But do they have carte blanche when staging the Bard? In 1936 Orson Welles took Shakespeare out of the western and predominately white world with his famed "Voodoo" production of Macbeth for the Federal Theatre in New York City. Welles's production transferred the Scottish King to colonial Haiti of the nineteenth century. Not only was the locale unique, but the play also boasted an entirely African-American cast. Situating this story in a culture influenced and governed by European forces, Welles raised some very interesting questions. Can Shakespeare be communicated via forms unfamiliar to the traditional (white) constituency of theatre audiences? Is Shakespeare so universal that he can transcend history, geography, culture and race? Harold Bloom clearly thinks so but others disagree. Reviewing a recent Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Macbeth set in contemporary Africa, S. Ekema Agbaw wrote, "In thus presenting an Africanized version of the English Renaissance dramatist, the director celebrates, or else risks saying, that you can still learn all there is to know about Africans by reading Shakespeare; that because human experiences are so universal, medieval Scottish kings and contemporary African leaders are interchangeable." Transplanting Shakespeare's plays into new cultural environments creates new ways to see characters and situations. But the practice also inevitably and misleadingly comments upon the culture represented on the stage. Which should we emphasize, the transplanted text or the context into which it has been newly placed? Bloom stresses the former, celebrating how Shakespeare's texts illuminate a wide range of worlds; Agbaw stresses the latter, criticizing how unique cultural contexts are misrepresented when viewed through an English Renaissance lens. The experiment to stage Shakespeare in different cultural contexts tests the universality that readers like Bloom accept as fact. Heeding Agbaw's candid caution, the question raised to producers and audience members of Macbeth or any play should be a reflexive one: "What does the production teach us about ourselves in our unique social climate?" not "What does it teach us about someone else's culture seen through a superficially imposed filter?" Kelley and his team of collaborators create a world to accommodate this concept. The action takes place in the center of a tribal village inspired by images from western African and ancient Mayan civilizations. Set designer Stancil Campbell creates a large enclosed playing space constructed of bamboo and tree limbs. Strong vertical elements are complemented with horizontal platforms and stairs, evoking the traditional playing spaces of the Elizabethan stage. Greg Horton adds a visually stunning collection of costumes, drawing upon many non-Western cultures to arrive at designs that range from almost animalistic coverings to the more symbolic clothing of royalty. Live drums call community members together and inspire them to dance the fable of Macbeth. CU professor of dance Onye Ozuzu choreographs. Joining the cast as Macbeth is Jeffrey Nickelson, founder and artistic director of Denver's Shadow Theatre Company. CU professor of theatre Candace Taylor returns to CSF to play Lady Macbeth. With lights by Michael Welborn and Kevin Dunayer providing the sound design, Macbeth promises to be an eclectic and invigorating production.