A Review of the Scottish Play

From October 2 – October 11 and October 16 – October 25, the Classic Theatre of San Antonio performed Macbeth, directed by Joe Groscinski. This performance took on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays–a tale of fatal ambition, mistrust, and ironic fate.

The stage lights up, a grim glow of green cascading across the platform. It has a ghastly hue, blending with the darkness of the outside theater. I adjust myself in the lawn chair, arms crossed, staring at each end of the green-tinted stage, a loud sense of foreboding filling the empty silence. 

I wait but a few moments, all but the timid sounds of the evening road defying the solemn silence. Suddenly, the theater erupts with noise. Foreign shouts fill the room, the metallic clash of swords and claymores jolting the audience. Actors and actresses rush out from either side of the stage, dressed in Old Scottish warrior garb. The dreadful silence moments before is dispensed, replaced by fury and war.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the noises fade. The soldiers swiftly leave the stage. The theater once again embraces a nothingness, as I wait with fevered anticipation for the first act to begin. 

From October 2 – October 11 and October 16 – October 25, the Classic Theatre of San Antonio performed Macbeth, directed by Joe Groscinski. This performance took on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays–a tale of fatal ambition, mistrust, and ironic fate.

The play begins with three witches (Emily Huber, Alyx Gonales, Kayce Roye) discussing their plans to meet Macbeth (John Stillwaggon). After a battle with Norwegians, Macbeth and Banquo (Christina Casella) are confronted by the three witches, who tell Macbeth a prophecy of him becoming King of Scotland. He tells this to Lady Macbeth (Carolyn Dellinger) in the form of a letter. Lady Macbeth scoffs at the indecisive tone of the letter, hardening her own heart and ambition.

Lady Macbeth incites Macbeth to ruthlessly act on the prophecy, as they both plan a series of murders to gain the throne, such as the murder of King Duncan, his friend Banquo, and Macduff’s (Zach Lewis) wife and kids.

Sometime after his reign, Malcolm (Hunter Wulff), Macduff, Siward (John Manzke) and English soldiers march to confront Macbeth in Dunsinane. Shortly before the confrontation, Lady Macbeth kills herself, leaving Macbeth in a stupor before the battle. The forces clash, with Macbeth’s army being defeated, and Macduff killing Macbeth. The performance ends with Malcolm being hailed as King of Scotland. 

There is no doubt that Macbeth being performed in the month of Halloween was intentional, and the phenomenal portrayal of the three witches confirms my suspicions. Although I would hesitate to call this adaptation scary as a whole, it did frame the story’s themes of fate and ambition in a spectacularly grim way. This framing can be seen in John Stillwaggon’s profound portrayal of Macbeth.

Stillwaggon’s first appearance comes beside Christina Casella’s Banquo. Here, Banquo’s portrayal serves as a perfect foil, arrogant and haughty, to Stillwaggon’s mirthful yet reserved demeanor. But in their encounter with the three witches, I notice another trait within Stillwaggon’s portrayal: his innocence. 

His interactions are hesitant and wary, his speech and mannerisms filled with reluctance. Stillwaggon bears the mantle of an innocent hero skeptical to the allures of power.

And slowly, he tears this mantle down.

The gradual change from Stillwaggon’s noble portrayal of Macbeth to a murderous tyrant starts with his exchanges with Carolyn Dellinger’s Lady Macbeth. Dellinger’s first scene with Macbeth’s letter is admirable. The mocking tone she adopts when reading his letter compliments her visible contempt for Macbeth’s indecisiveness. Dellinger’s interplay with Stillwaggon is exceptional. She becomes a furious muse, the allure in her tone and speech descending them both into mad ambition. 

Stillwaggon displays the state of Macbeth’s mind to the audience, from his need to appease his wife, to the cascading madness that is accompanied with killing King Duncan. His portrayals of Macbeth’s emotions are so raw and genuine, that I could not help but briefly pardon the mad tyrant he would become. 

But Stillwaggon’s ebbing flow of happiness and guilt, remorse and pride, resolve and fear, is stopped upon news of Lady Macbeth’s death. From there, Macbeth’s famous “Tomorrow soliloquy” is recited.

I always likened the soliloquy to a descent–the first lines filled with frustration and fury, and the last words dying out with disheartened purpose.

But in Stillwaggon’s soliloquy, he presents a tone of disheartened purpose from the very first line. His delivery of each line is desolate and morose, every word like an echo, drawing from the broken will of a hollowed man. In this scene, I cannot feel any sorrow for Macbeth. I feel nothing, as I see not a soul in despair, but a man so hardened and consumed by his fate, he has no soul at all. 

Stillwaggon’s portrayal of Macbeth is profound, from his first appearance to his very end.

Besides the phenomenal acting from the cast, there are many other captivating things about the performance. The battle scenes are well done, with entertaining swordplay and excellent choreography. The appearances of the witches are exceptionally theatrical, with ghastly lighting, chilling sound effects, and their grim attire serving them well. Lastly, the costume and set design is remarkable, allowing the audience to engage with the historic backdrop of the play. 

Overall, I see the performance as a traditional adaptation of Macbeth. However, the individual performances of the cast members are uniquely remarkable, and to certain aspects, revolutionizing.