I am not a theatre critic, but I am a fan of live theatre. I am particularly a fan of community theatre and it’s not just because I’m married to a guy with skin in the game. By its very nature, live theatre is intimate, but something about the smaller venue, the often inventive sets born of small budgets, and the casts comprised of commingled amateur and professional actors, intensifies that intimacy for me. For our family, this has been especially true at Hubbard Hall, a theatre company making its home in a small Victorian opera house in the ‘one-traffic light town’ of Cambridge, New York. This small venue with its eclectic, talented cast was the perfect place to introduce my twelve-year-old son to something truly wicked and wonderful – William Shakespeare’s MacBeth.
My date for the evening was not a willing victim, despite the numerous performances he has attended and enjoyed at Hubbard Hall (another Shakespeare play among them). It wasn’t terribly late for a school night, but he was happily ensconced on the sofa watching TV with his dad and brother. Knowing I couldn’t bring the Big Guy – our midweek babysitter lineup is non-existent, and MacBeth is not six-year-old friendly – I opted for the Because-I-Said-So card (rather than the pricking of his thumbs) and forced him into a clean shirt before ushering him out the door. He was offering to do homework as we got into the car.
He was still quietly protesting the interruption to his studies (me thinks he protested a bit too much) when we sat down.
Then the first of a trio of mischievous witches entered. Knowing the cast at Hubbard Hall also acts as stage crew, we watched as she toiled and troubled over a basket. We soon realized, however, that she and her sisters were setting the mood, and, as they scurried about the minimalist and starkly lit set, I watched them reset my son’s mood. The silent reproach became reluctant attentiveness and then intense focus. His focus would not change for the next hour and a half, and neither would mine.
We have been wowed by most of these actors in other performances, so even on the ‘Pay What You Will’ night, I pay full price, knowing it will be worth the price of admission. Thursday night was no exception. It is no small tribute that this talented, eclectic ensemble was able to communicate not just the gist, but the intensity of this story of betrayal and recrimination to an initially disinterested twelve-year-old.
An extra slot in my schedule senior year combined with my mom’s firm ideas about how school hours should be spent, resulted in my picking up a Shakespeare class for a semester. It had its moments, but for the most part, its main attraction was that it wasn’t a math or science class. And, while I was ultimately glad circumstance had me forced into a working knowledge of the bard’s works, I was hardly an aficionado. It wasn’t until years later when I caught an impromptu performance of As You Like It that I was able to get past the language and into the essence of the story. Remembering that these plays had been written for the benefit of penny-a-cushion illiterates (and philistines like me), I began making it a point to catch performances of Shakespeare’s works whenever I could find the modern equivalent of a penny-priced cushion. In the end, it wasn’t just the play that was the thing – it was the playing of it wherein the imagination became king.
So, I did hesitate a moment before dragging said twelve-year-old out on a snowy school night. And, even though biology and sleep forced us away too early (I will go back for another performance), when the hurly-burly was done, I knew something had been won. The close quarters stage combined with the cast’s intimacy with their parts and the poetry of the play may not have created a full-blown convert, but when my first-born walked out into the snow MacBeth wasn’t just some play written by a dead guy 500 years ago. It was a really cool show about murder and betrayal and guilt. It was the ultimate reality show. It was, as my eldest put it, wicked good.
The semi-biased facts about the show:
MacBeth is playing at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY from March 8-24 (full schedule is on their site). Directed by John Hadden, it is performed by the incredibly entertaining Colleen Lovett, Catherine Seeley Keister, Myka Plunkett, Christine Decker, Renzo Scott Renzoni, Robert Francis Forgett, Doug Ryan, Betsy Holt, Gino Costabile, and Reilly Hadden and (fact) should not be missed.