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Theater Review: Macbeth (Oxford Street Players)

[Editor’s note:  Freddy Widmer also assisted with this review; the reviewers attended two separate performances. Christina’s observations are first, followed by Freddy’s.]

Lesley University’s Oxford Street Players performed Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Marran Theater on April 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th to enthusiastic audiences.  Founded in 1993, the Players perform a Shakespearean play every year. This year’s production was directed by co-founder and Lesley professor Dr. Annie Pluto; co-founder Lisa Risley served as dramaturge for this play. Macbeth tells the story of how a Scottish
general is told in a prophecy by three witches that he will become king. This tragedy depicts his obsession with the prophecy and the horrific, murderous ambitions he and his wife resort to in order to make the prophecy come true.

For this year’s production, the Players focused on using imagery to help the audience better understand the text. In the Technical Director’s notes, Terry Michael Chance stated that “We are moving into a technological age of theatre — what would have been created with hammers, nails, wood, and paint, can now be brought life by mapping.” Projection mapping uses video projectors to map light onto any surface in order to make displays interactive. During each scene of the play, the setting of that scene was projected behind the actors, with lightning that flickered and castles with clouds moving behind them.

I attended the play for its second performance on April 5th. I was immediately impressed by the projectile mapping, as it brought the scenes to life in a way I had never seen before. Many of the characters were very committed to portrayal of their characters. Matthew Murch (Duncan, King of Scotland) spoke as nobly as a royal figure should. Liana Freeman, Andrea Mills and Katie Walsh (Witch One, Two and Three) gave chills and set the eerie mood for the play. Samantha Zarkower (Lady Macbeth) portrayed a committed, devoted wife who drives herself to insanity in order to please her husband, making the story all the more haunting. All of the actors delivered their complex, Shakespearean dialogue flawlessly, and the emotion emitted from their portrayals made the audience captivated by the characters and invested in the story.

I greatly enjoyed this performance of Macbeth. It was the first play I’ve even seen from the Oxford Street Players, and I was greatly impressed by the show. The advanced technical direction was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a play before, and it made the production all the more exciting and helped me understand the mood and tensions of each scene. While it was sometimes difficult to understand the Shakespearean language, the program offered a synopsis of the show to help the audience grasp the plot of the play. The costumes accurately reflected the medieval time period of which the story takes place in and the actors’ makeup emulated the traits of each respective character. Immediately, I could tell that everyone involved in this play was extremely dedicated and gave maximum effort to put on the best show possible,
and they did. I am excited to see what the Oxford Street Players does next.

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With any Shakespeare work, one of the timeless and quintessential characteristics is the prose, and the particularly stylistic way all of his characters speak. But in the Scottish play specifically, there is something particularly eerie about the three shadowy figures who first grace the stage to say their song, “double, double toil and trouble.” And just like that, the 24th season production of the Oxford Street Players at Lesley University was off! The Oxford Street Players, led by the talented direction of Prof. Annie Pluto, are a longstanding tradition at Lesley. They utilize a unique mix of current students, alums of the university, and outside help to put on an elaborate interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s works nearly every spring. This year, they decided to put on Macbeth, and almost immediately you could see how much work had gone into this production. From the attached photo of the stage, one could see the intense lighting, and the beautiful screen with the stained glass crown image. And that’s before any of the actors even came out!

That being said, though, as the play went on, the image projection had some hiccups. I do think the backdrops that were selected were incredible, but my friends and I agreed that the transitional unfolding of the image by each little square as it dissolved and was reformed into a new backdrop was a bit distracting, and a bit too modern for such distinctively ancient words coming from the actors.

At one point towards the end of the show, the computer being used to project the images overheated and a message popped up on the screen before the whole thing eventually turned off for several scenes until it could be put to use again later. But as the technical director put it in the playbill, educational theater offers the chance to “experiment with innovative ways to present theater,” and to that end it was a remarkable success. (It could also have been how long the computer was used; after all, the show ran just under three hours with a fifteen minute intermission, which also brings up how incredible this cast was. These fifteen talented and dedicated young actors were able to get up on stage playing multiple characters (in some cases) and not a single line was flubbed or glossed over. Three hours of lines is no small feat, and it made me beam with pride for them and their hard work. All in all, this show was remarkable, and it already leaves me yearning to find out what the 25th show will be next year!

1 Response »

  1. Wow: I thought this group did not actually exist.

    You’d get more patrons if you actually ANNOUNCED what was to be played on your OSP website: https://lesley.edu/students/organizations-activities/student-organizations/the-oxford-street-players

    On that site, OSP asks for donations but, once again, offers NO LINK whereby one may do so.


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