When it comes to drama — and especially Shakespeare — local audiences have come to expect the unexpected from Westfield High theater. And its upcoming production of "Macbeth" provides a new and insightful perspective on this tragedy that quickly grabs the audience and doesn't let go.
"People will leave the theater being thoroughly freaked out because it's so disturbing and has to do with murder and sorcery," said junior Garrett Henson who plays Hecate, ruler of the spirit world. "They'll definitely know they saw a tragedy."
SHOWTIMES are Friday-Saturday, Nov. 17-18, at 8 p.m. each night, and Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 703-488-6439 or see www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.
"People who understand Shakespeare will appreciate our rendition of the show," said Henson. "And it will probably inspire teens to learn more about Shakespeare. This opens people's eyes to how cool and different you can make Shakespeare and still get the point across."
It's set in the Scottish highlands in medieval days, when villages and towns were run by clans and primal communities, encircled to protect their families from unfriendly tribes. And in Director Scott Pafumi's rendition, evil is palpable and visceral, and a dark quest for power is paramount.
"It is my contention that Macbeth is not an evil man, but one played upon by an overbearing wife while under the influence of supernatural powers," said Pafumi. "I feel that Lady Macbeth is one of the witches and, in her power over her husband, she has made a deal with these devils and is pulling from their powers in a spell-like control over him."
And all the actors know they're part of something special. Said Henson: "From day one, the whole cast has been excited and pumped to do this show because it's such an invigorating concept."
Senior Kelsey Gaber, 17, heads a 50-member tech crew. "To illustrate that chaos in nature will slowly take over civilization, one side of the stage is orderly and shows the castle stones, but the other side will be moss and trees and look more random," she said. "It shows the contradiction that, as Macbeth tries to get more power, it's actually leading to his downfall."
She and senior Michael Gendreau, assistant technical director, designed the set. Students are building a 6-foot platform to be a rounded, castle turret, plus a ramp, and the turret will also transition into Lady Macbeth's bedroom.
"The hardest thing to build is a fire pit because we can't have actual fire on stage, so we'll use a lamp inside a log with different-colored gels and lights," said Gaber. Looking forward to finishing the set, Gendreau added, "You know it'll all come together, but getting there is an arduous process."
The lighting, sound effects and background music are also an integral part of the show's mood. "There's lots of drumming and percussion, rhythm, dance and creative movement underscoring the action," said Pafumi. "And we've hired Casey Kaleba, a stage-combat instructor, to choreograph the swordfighting and hand-to-hand combat scenes."
LORALEE ROLFE, 17, is stage manager and, during the show, she'll call cues to the actors and confer with people backstage. With a cast of 40, she said, it's sometimes tough keeping the actors organized and on task during rehearsals. But, she said, "I love working with Mr. Pafumi and keeping everyone in line. It's nice to finally be on top."
Rolfe says the audience will like the show's drama and intensity. "It really captures you," she said. "It's tribal and raw, and we're using voodoo as the magic. There's even a voodoo doll, and we're actually showing the transfer of power from the witches to Lady Macbeth to show that she's one of the witches. And the costumes are more 'Braveheart' — leathers, furs and leopard prints — primal and earthy."
Senior Stephen Hatch, 17, portrays Macbeth. "He's essentially a good guy, but gets overpowered by the witches and his wife, and then he starts liking the effects," said Hatch. "But in the back of his mind, there's guilt for what he's done. Throughout the play, the goodness in his life is gradually sucked away until there's nothing left but evil."
His role is difficult because there's so much to memorize. "So it's a lot of work," said Hatch. "But it's a really good opportunity, and it's cool to play because everybody's afraid of you. I think it'll be a really good show that's enjoyable to watch because of the story, the witches, the interactions between the characters and all the good music and sound."
Playing Lady Macbeth is senior Ariel Herman, 18. "She's the manipulative, almost witchlike wife of Macbeth who — in the beginning — drives him to do all his devilish deeds," she explained. "Then, when he becomes his own, evil entity, she can't handle it and goes crazy."
Herman says it's fun being a strong, female character and acting with Hatch because she's known him since fourth grade. She also likes interacting with the witches and playing an evil person so unlike herself.
"My favorite scene is the one where I go crazy and the witches tear me to pieces," she said. "It's very surreal because I'm walking on everyone's back, almost like floating. The hardest part is being intense and fierce for so long and always coming on stage with so much energy."
Chelsea Stenger, Jade Jones and Sarah Cowdery portray the witches, here called the "weird sisters." Said Stenger, 17: "We represent the spiritual voodoo and come in during various scenes, playing instruments and ominous music, to show evil."
"IT'S REALLY fun to play someone who's not a person, and weird," said Jones, a junior. "We show it through our body movements, sounds and lines. And we wear black and brown rags and furs."
"The witches symbolize the manipulation of people," said Cowdery, 16. "They're manipulating Macbeth, so the witches are actually responsible, in a way, for all the murders and corruption. And we each represent different elements in nature. I'm air, Chelsea's water and Jade is earth. And it helps with the physicality of our characters in the way we move."
Noting that Jones and Cowdery are two of her best friends, Stenger said they've bonded even more while working on this show. However, she added, "Some of the sounds we have to make are hard on my voice, and it's physically demanding. We lift Lady Macbeth a lot and dance and scream for two hours." But Stenger loves it because "there's no other play where you get to be as crazy, evil and conniving."
As Hecate, master of the witches, Garrett Henson's in a role traditionally done by a woman. But, he said, "I'm honored to do it because I think it's a really cool twist in the show. And this gender switching is something else that makes our production unique. I'm an androgynous beast with hair extensions and henna tattoos down my arms."
Henson said this show's world is post-apocalyptic. "After society has been destroyed, the survivors go back to their tribal roots to start again," he explained. "And that's how we got voodoo because it's one of the oldest religions on earth."
He's having a great time with his role, he said, because "we can be all out and completely creepy. It's a privilege to play this part because there aren't really any limits to it; you can't go too overboard. It's the show's gross factor, like extreme Halloween."
Junior Dan Hrebenak, 17, plays Macduff. "He's the polar opposite of Macbeth and, the more horrible Macbeth gets, the stronger and more powerful Macduff become," said Hrebenak. "He's one of the thanes — the king's knights. He's dedicated to Duncan, the king of Scotland, and is ready to give his life for him."
"At the end, Macduff lets Malcolm be king, and that's why he doesn't fall into the same trap as Macbeth," continued Hrebenak. "He lets the natural-born king rule, instead of trying to take his power for himself. I love every second of this role and, with such a great cast, I want to pay homage to Macduff's complexity. It challenges me in so many ways and is more emotional — like one part where I have to break down and cry — than I've ever had to play before."
Hardest for him is playing the timpani in "low-tension ominous or high-tension for a military rhythm." Said Hrebenak: "I've never done percussion before, but music is a big part of this show because we have a constant drumming underneath, songs between scenes and choreographed scenes."
But he's glad to play Macduff because he "represents everything that's good in the play — he's a symbol of chivalry and justice. He's the key component in purging evil."
Senior Sarah Pike, 17, portrays his wife, Lady Macduff. "She's one of the few, gentle women in the piece," said Pike. "Lots of the male soldier parts are cast as women who are strong and gruff."
"I'M GIVEN the news that Macduff has fled the land, and I don't know why," she continued. "I think he's abandoned his family, but he's really gone to find someone to help him overthrow Macbeth. So there's a really tender scene where I'm explaining to our daughter that her father is gone. And I really love working with Leslie Roth who plays my child. Lady Macduff has big-time, motherly instincts. She feels less safe with her husband gone, but she tries to protect her daughter."
She said Pafumi has done some "really creative things, in terms of staging and the underlying theme of foolish deception — which is also the theme for our theater program this year. Lady Macbeth deceives her husband into thinking she knows what's best for him, and the citizens are deceived because they don't know Macbeth killed Duncan."
Portraying Banquo, Macbeth's best friend, is junior Cody Jones. He's also a thane and one of the best warriors. "Macbeth and I are on the same path; it's prophesized that he's going to be king and so are my children," said Jones. "But he takes matters into his own hands. Instead of letting fate take a hand, he kills people so he can be king."
Banquo has a good time, but is also a bit uneasy. "I'm a little jealous of Macbeth and am wondering when my side of the prophesy is going to take effect," said Jones. "It's cool to play because I die and get to come back as a ghost and haunt Macbeth. It's really fun to do the death scene and, as a ghost, I speak in a slower, more elongated, menacing voice. And I get to wear a kilt, which will be awesome."
Overall, added Pike, the whole cast is working well together and she believes the audience will easily understand the show — "which can sometimes be a challenge with Shakespeare in high school. But people will definitely enjoy it, and it should be a fabulous production."