Macbeth returns to Sand Harbor

An eerie wind blows across the fading Lake Tahoe sunset. The lights go out and three witches appear. Dreadlocked, dead-eyed, demented, not of this world, they hobble across the Celtic stage like soulless crows. Such is the entrancing darkness of the 2018 Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s opening scene at Sand Harbor State Park.

If you are seeking some wickedly stirring theater this summer, look no further than the East Shore. It’s bound to be better than any new movie you might happen to see. Instead, be transported to a world where brutal desire sets in motion grand events that cannot be undone onstage nor within the human heart.

Having singlehandedly won the battle against the Northern invaders, the witches predict that Macbeth will soon be King of Scotland. So begins the bard’s legendary tragedy of ambition, morality, illusion and fate. The best part is you already know what is going to happen; it is only that you want to know how.

Two panels of onstage audience members observe raptly from their jury boxes as Lynn Robert Berg bellows, rages and sobs through the classic role with charismatic gusto. These seats are available for a discounted rate. Although you get some special action all to yourself, you’ll be seeing most of the dialogue from behind

Physically speaking, Berg is quite the specimen of a human. Well over 6 feet tall with bounding chest and arms that could no doubt unseam a foe “from the nave to the chaps,” he fervently exhibits the full range of man’s power and weakness through his cursed obsession with the Scottish crown. His full-throated, visceral performance makes it perfectly natural to both sympathize with him and hate him at the same time.

But as any Shakespearean knows, the true star of this play is Lady Macbeth. Returning for her fourth year in a row, Erin Partin dives headlong into the timelessly malevolent character with emotional honesty and reckless abandon.

“I absolutely love playing here,” she says after the opening night preview. “The backstage is basically sand.”

Although she admits the cast was initially a bit self-conscious about performing with the onstage audience members, Partin tears into the role of Macbeth’s wife, salaciously goading and wooing him toward their eventual demise. In convincing Macbeth to commit regicide in order to steal the crown, she uses feigned femininity as a lure to corner him against all moral reason. She is as alluring as she is persuasive in her twisted justification of their plot. And though the pure horror of murder soon falls on them like a stack of cards, there is some large part of us that can relate to her, that possibly could’ve been convinced ourselves selfsame had we been in those tormented boots.

It’s been 13 years since the festival presented this king of Shakespearean tragedies. After the breezy, entertaining versions of the comedies “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Comedy of Errors,” this play packs a punch well due in our current political and social climate. Director Charles Fee does not adapt the play to modern times, instead he presents it as close to the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre version as possible. The raw, primeval fury of the performance carries the day, tingling the spine and arresting the conscience from its fitful daydream.

Fine turns by Jonathan Dyrud as Banquo and Christopher Tocco as Macduff, along the with a superbly understated supporting cast showcasing Pedar Benson Bate and M.A. Taylor as the two murderers, make for a night not soon to be forgotten. In the end, it’s the witches who wordlessly steal the show with perfect movement and fantastically simple, yet sinister costume design by Kim Krumm Sorenson. I, for one, certainly felt as if I was tremoring there beneath them in that baleful grove as they brewed the last strands of Macbeth’s doomed providence.

“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble,” the weird sisters infamously chant, dripping their flaming sparks into the foul concoction.

At that moment, a flock of Canadian geese soar by o’er the water honking at a curse they fly fast to evade. If there is a paradoxical potion we could drink to clear our minds from the trifling madness of contemporary life and reconnect with what makes us all too human, it just might be watching “Macbeth” besides a tranquil lake.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival
Nightly through Aug. 26 | Sand Harbor State Park

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival features performances of “Macbeth” and “Beehive: The 60s Musical” through Aug. 26, along with musical and dance performances as part of the Showcase Series until Sept. 8. | laketahoeshakespeare.com