Wisconsin Lutheran puts new spin on 'Macbeth Project'

By JULIE McHALE - Timeout Theater Critic

April 10, 2014


MILWAUKEE - Shakespeare continues to have his fans. Though some are turned off by his language, some find it a treasure worth mining.

Wisconsin Lutheran College just took on quite a challenge in presenting “In Spite of Thunder: The Macbeth Project,” a reconstructed version of the original. Though the playwright, Suzan Zeder, took some liberties in the setting and the casting, the bard’s beautiful language remains intact. It is an adventurous new journey down a familiar path. Most of us studied “Macbeth” somewhere in our education, but this fresh approach forces us to take a good look at it again. Many of the soliloquies will sound familiar.

Because the themes of greed and power continue to resonate in the modern world, “Macbeth” will always have something to say to us.  What is a given person willing to do to accrue more money, more power, more influence? Almost anything, in some cases. It can become an insatiable addiction, one even more compelling than alcohol, drugs or sex.

What is so unique about Zeder’s spin on this story is her decision to use four different couples in the cast to alternate taking the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This switching of roles emphasizes that we are all capable of trading our ethics for a shot in the spotlight, that we are all vulnerable to outside pressure to do something that is against our better nature, that the seeds of evil exist in each of us.

The compelling set design by professor Jay Sierszn creates the atmosphere of an underworld of crime and violence. Even the eerie tunnel upstage suggests an escape route; the general seediness and graffiti bespeak destruction. It is a very effective backdrop for the evil that is unleashed here, all instigated by Lady Macbeth, who, to me, is the female counterpart to Iago, the villain in “Othello.”

The very capable cast has mastered Shakespeare’s language. The meaning and beauty of the lines come across clearly. The lighting and sound effects contribute to the frightening ambience, thanks to the expertise of Aaron Siegmann and Ashley DeVos. Grant Coppersmith’s percussive skills also add to the heady blend.

All eight members of the cast must be credited for their effort and accomplishments; Thomas Sebald, Marah Nitz, Joshua Scheibe, Katlyn Rogers, Zachary Stohlman, Megan Ann Jacobs, Abednego Samudera and Elaina Helmen. They all played multiple roles with fervor and credibility. It was a joy to experience.

And kudos, above all, to professor Simon Provan, who offered his guidance and expertise in directing this astounding production.