ASHLAND — Sometimes getting what you think you desperately want isn’t enough.
In “Macbeth,” a summer season addition at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Macbeth is a person of good character and conscience, a heroic and revered Scottish army general who yields to lusty temptations to illegitimately become King of Scotland. But, ridden with guilt and fearful that others might likewise challenge him, Macbeth finds himself immersed in an uneasy game of thrones.
This season’s “Macbeth” is a haunting play, a story of witches and prophecies, of fears of betrayal, of a man struggling between honor and unfettered ambition. Although Macbeth feels slighted when Duncan, King of Scotland, designates his son Malcolm as heir, his fire for stealing the crown is fueled by his wife, Lady Macbeth, who prods and provokes her husband to murder the king and his son and, in doing so, to “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent’s hand under it.”
In some productions Lady Macbeth is less than winsome. Not in this “Macbeth.” As the would-be queen, Amy Kim Waschke is beautiful temptation, a woman that Danforth Comins’ Macbeth can neither resist or refuse. She wields a power over her husband that causes him to recklessly abandon reason. As director Jose Luis Valenzuela questions in his program notes, “What can drive a hero and his wife to lose the humanity in search of power?”
Comins’ Macbeth is a haunted king, fearing those who might challenge his power, aware that others might find ways to betray him as he betrayed Duncan. “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind,” he laments of his “deed of dreadful note.”
His fears are also fueled by the prophecies of three witches, they of the famous “Double, double, toil and trouble.” They fill Macbeth with both ambition and fear, telling him and telling Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and fellow general, that “Thou shalt get kings.”
“Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, one filled with words that resonate, flow and foreshadow. A common theme in Valenzuela’s production is the power of equivocation, or obscuring the truth without actually lying. Urged by his wife, Macbeth pretends to be Duncan’s loyal subject while plotting his and his son’s murder. And when the bodies of the suspected “murderers” are found, Macbeth equivocates, saying of the killings, “Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral in a moment?”
Comins and Waschke are the passionate couple who drive the play, who create and commit murder and mayhem. But, as usual, a deep and talented cast gives the play its powerful punch. Chris Butler is a questioning, dubious Macduff while Al Espinosa is a strong, suspicious Banquo. Playful and menacing as the witches are Robin Goodrin Nordli, Miriam Laube and Erica Sullivan. Showing deft versatility is Rex Young, who smoothly changes personas as Duncan and, later, a doctor and a porter.
But it’s Shakespeare’s words, words richly powerful and poignant, and storytelling that give the play its vitality. “Macbeth” is a play that never grows old.