The crime rate in Ellicott City will soar throughout the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s outdoor production of “Macbeth.” This “movable” staging at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park is bristling with murders and just plain nasty behavior. Gun control advocates might feel the need to instead call for sword and knife control in unruly 11th-century Scotland, where the story takes place.
The action in this production of “Macbeth” lends itself extremely well to a mobile production in which the generally short scenes take place amidst the stabilized ruins and surrounding grounds of the former girls’ school. Director Ian Gallanar does a first-rate job of using outdoor space in creative ways.
From the opening moments of the play, audience members will find themselves just a few feet away from the performers. The so-called Weird Sisters invoke their witchy incantations as they slither through the crowd, and some of the bloody military operations are close enough to unnerve unarmed spectators.
In what amounts to a brisk guided tour of one of Shakespeare’s most compact plays, this production is consistently clever with how it uses a location that is easily transformed in your imagination into a derelict castle and a lawn turned battlefield.
Curiously, the only real disappointment in the “movable” staging is that it does not do more with Macbeth’s prophecy-based confidence that he will not lose in battle unless the forest called Birnam Wood should — literally — move. That crucial thematic element means even more when the play is performed on an Ellicott City hilltop encircled by tall trees.
It’s usually much fun following this production around the castle – ably played by the Patapsco Female Institute. Maybe too much fun at times. The events in “Macbeth” arguably qualify as comic horror in certain scenes, but this staging and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company staff members guiding us from place to place verge on encouraging laughs during what is definitely a tragedy.
Fortunately, the sturdy performance by Scott Alan Small as Macbeth dramatically anchors the show. Small conveys the blustery confidence that has served Macbeth well as a general under the king of Scotland. Correspondingly, Frank B. Moorman brings regal authority to the role of Duncan, the Scottish king.
The notion that Macbeth could apply his military skill to deposing the king is something that Macbeth’s wife is eager to inculcate. Although Tamieka Chavis could do more to bring out the conniving and, oh, let’s just say it, evil nature of Lady Macbeth, she’s very effective late in the play embodying the desperation of an ambitious spouse whose greedy plans result in a disastrously short reign for the Macbeths as a royal couple.
Lively performances from others in the cast include Ian Charles as Malcolm, Duncan’s eldest son; Vince Eisenson as Banquo, a general; and Terrance Fleming as Macduff, another member of the nobility in a courtly realm with no shortage of people willing to fight over titles.
The cast rises to the propulsive quality of Shakespeare’s writing. Even those in the audience who know the play well may find themselves shocked anew at how quickly Macbeth’s plans unravel. Something wicked this way comes, as the three witches remind us, and in this production the disturbing action is brushing right up against you.
“Macbeth” runs through June 23 at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Road in Ellicott City. Remaining performances are June 13 and 20 at 7:30 p.m.; June 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m.; and June 16 and 23 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $49- $59; $29 for ages 25 and under. Call 410-244-8570 or go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com.