voices found loses all pretense in 'macbeth'

Witches gather to plan their prophecies in a scene from Voices Found Repertory's  'Macbeth."

Witches gather to plan their prophecies in a scene from Voices Found Repertory's  'Macbeth."


Published March 26, 2018

Shakespeare was never one to shy away from violence. A good example of that is “Macbeth,” which has its share of violent deaths.

While many presentations sanitize the bloodshed, Voices Found Repertory revels in it. So much so that they have provided rain ponchos for audience members seated close to the stage to protect them from any burgundy-colored spurts. The audience was assured by the director, Alec Lachman, before the performance I attended that the color is washable.

The show is a gritty tale of power, greed and revenge and their horrible consequences when left unchecked. Shakespeare’s play describes how a Scottish soldier, Macbeth, believing the prophecy of witches that he is to be king, sets out on a trail of murder to that end. This leads to his own madness, and that of his wife who encouraged his treachery, and their subsequent demise.

Going insane

This version has the setting of a darkened back alley, the brick walls covered with graffiti, such as “blood will have blood.” There is a garbage can overflowing with trash, including a discarded stop sign. A couple of old tires surround it. In the corner, ironically, sits a throne, which at various times is occupied by Duncan, the king of Scotland, as well as Macbeth and others.

Most denizens of this unpleasant place are dressed in drab, stained, loose-fitting modern-day clothing and big boots. Their faces are marked with thick charcoal streaks. Shakespeare’s characters in this show appear like street gang members, almost like rabid animals, fighting and clawing their way to be the alpha dog. There is a sort of primitive, primal quality about the performances that Lachman has elicited from the well-invested cast.

This presentation feels like a horror show – with the graphic portrayals of killings, the appearance of witches, the characters’ descension into insanity.

The opening sets the tone as a group of black-hooded witches hunkers onto the stage, twitching uncomfortably, hauntingly as they plan their meeting with Macbeth to tell him their prophecies. The twitchy witches again appear at the start of Act II, spouting the familiar “Double, double toil and trouble” line, a harbinger of the evil to come.


Fight to the death

This show features two acts, and the fights, movements and characters’ intensity keep the monologues from bogging down. The performances are dynamic and edgy, spurred on by Andrew Wagner’s eerie original score that dramatizes the tension without being obtrusive.

This ensemble cast of eight seems like many more as several play dual roles, plus the performers’ big, bold movements and portrayals really fill the small, corner stage.

Performances are consistently good, but I especially enjoyed Alexis Furseth as Lady Macbeth and, later, Little Duff, child of Macduff. Furseth’s Lady Macbeth effectively travels a wide range of emotions – from power crazy to just plain crazy, as she tries to wash off the blood she imagines on her hands in the “Out, damned spot” scene. It’s a compelling scene, as is the scene at a dinner table with friends in which Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, another of his victims who got in the way of his ascendency, which sends him into a manic state that Lady Macbeth must explain to her guests.


As Macbeth, Michael Cienfuegos-Baca’s performance is riveting as well, giving the main character a fiery persona intent on the kingship, tinged at times with self-doubt and grief, as in the “Out, out brief candle” scene where he learns of the death of his wife. His battles with Macduff -- which Lachman choreographed along with all the other fight scenes – are definite highlights. The violence is handled deliberately and effectively. Lachman's choreography pulls no punches, so to speak, to convey the passion of the characters and the high stakes they were fighting so intensely for.

Drunken guards

Thom Cauley’s Macduff is also well-drawn, putting up a firm, steady hand against the desperate Macbeth, who realizes too late that he has misinterpreted the prophecies of the witches and is doomed. Cauley has a fine presence and carries his upright – though bloodied – character with confidence, giving weight to lines such as “I have no words. My voice is in my spear.”

Kyle Conner as Malcom, Duncan’s son, also has the right tone and easily handles the weaponry.

As the Porter in Act I, Sarah Zapiain plays her character effectively and comically, stumbling about in a foggy hangover in the scene after Duncan is murdered. Macbeth has gotten Porter drunk so he can have access to kill the king and then blame guards who have no memory of the evening.

Zapiain is among several women playing men’s roles superbly -- Brittany Ann Meister is Banquo, Mary Buchel is Duncan and Hannah Kubiak plays Lennox, a Scottish nobleman. All handled the physicality and intensity of the show wonderfully.

If you go

Who: Voices Found Theatre

What: “Macbeth”

When: Through March 31

Where: The Arcade Theatre (at the Underground Collaborative), 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee

Tickets/Info: www.voicesfoundrepertory.com