Ambition’s Curse

Lamar Theatre to present William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’

It is a legend among thespians that saying the name of William Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” in the theater is bad luck, requiring a “cleansing ritual,” such as leaving the theater, turning around and saying “Macbeth” three times before being invited back in.

Lamar theater instructor Joel Grothe is not deterred by anecdotes of bad luck, saying he is not superstitious, even though he has some experience of the “curse.”

Daniel Sharpless plays Macbeth and Natalie Cardona plays Lady Macbeth in Lamar’s upcoming production

“I do respect the superstitions because a lot of people believe in them,” he said. “The last time I did the play, the king was being played by a Canadian actor named Jon LeBow. The poor guy fell off a ladder working on his house and had to be replaced.”

Grothe will direct “Macbeth,” Feb. 28-March 3, in the University Theatre on the Lamar University campus.

It is not Grothe’s first encounter with “Mackers,” having played Banquo in an acclaimed professional production in Toronto in 2002.

“It’s a play I know really well, and it will be the first play I’ve ever done twice,” he said. “It’s also one of Shakespeare’s better known, shorter plays that, aside from the role of Macbeth, is truly an ensemble piece.”

“Macbeth” is a story of ambition and Grothe said that Shakespeare’s plays are as relevant today as when they were written.

“Shakespeare, like many Renaissance artists, was asking the big questions about humanity — the ones we never really answer,” he said. “In Shakespeare’s case, it isn’t just the big questions and statements about humanity that he’s asking and making, but how he is phrasing them.

“For the play itself, it’s all about where we draw the line with ambition and expectation, but also the negotiation of what’s real and what isn’t.”

Natalie Cardona plays Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most iconic female roles.

“I auditioned for the part because of how notoriously known her character is and I wanted the opportunity to explore why that is,” she said. “Lady Macbeth intrigued me and I was so eager to dive into the possible complex mindsets she may possess.”

Cardona said it has always been her dream to play an antihero.

“As a child, I always cast myself as the villain so that I could trick myself into believing that victory was all mine, right before the sudden shift in the odds leading, inevitably, to my ultimate demise and a most dramatic death scene,” she said. “Villains embark on dark, emotional journeys whose motives are driven by some deep inner struggle that may offer some explanation to how they came to be.

“While Lady Macbeth exudes a persona of being cunning, assertive, and vigorous, she is secretly falling apart.”

Lady Macbeth’s appeal as a character stems from the assumption that she is a villainous character, Cardona said, but she is more than just black and white.

“Macbeth and his wife transcend the standard hero vs. villain and good vs. evil dichotomy because they are not one-dimensional characters and have beguiled audiences into rooting for them,” she said. “Shakespeare leaves a lot of room for audience and actor interpretation in terms of what drives Lady Macbeth. What motivates her? Why is she so obsessed with becoming queen? These are questions I am still trying to answer.”

Daniel Sharpless plays the eponymous protagonist. The character is so iconic it brings a unique challenge.

“I have watched a lot of movies, I have read cuttings from multiple directors and their vision, but through it all they say make it your own — make it real to you,” he said. “And I would have to agree. If I have no connection to the character, it would never work. It must be me.”

Like everyone else connected with the production, Sharpless said that Shakespeare incorporates every feeling a person could have, into every single character on the stage.

“(Macbeth) is a story about love, greed, hate, revenge, sacrifice, murder — everything one could imagine is in this play,” he said. “It is everything we deal with today, just with swords and an older style of speaking.”

Playgoers expecting the set to be a literal reproduction of a medieval castle will be in for a surprise.

“‘Macbeth’ is about creating an environment where the difference between illusion and reality is hard to negotiate,” Grothe said. “That is the spirit of the play. I believe in the Julie Taymor school of Shakespeare, where you try to create a world that helps tell the story. Our setting is imaginary, created by us, because Shakespeare’s setting for the play was his own imagination. The language needs to be clear, and any other elements of performance or design must be there to advance that clarity further. The play itself is a paradox in this way, because the clearest thing about it is that nothing is clear.”

People unfamiliar with the plays are sometimes deterred by the belief that the language is too hard to understand. Grothe said that if the actors understand the language, the audience will be able to be drawn into the work.

“Our audiences in America are not used to having to work to watch a film or a play, and in this way the language can be a barrier, but if the actors in Shakespeare engage the audience the way they should, and the audience is willing to go with them, you may not understand every word, but you can follow the story,” he said.

The play features a cast of more than 30, comprising both students and faculty. Working on such a scale is exciting, Grothe said.

“It’s a lot of traffic control for myself and (stage manager) Hilary Hayes, but it’s a lot of energy coming from very different directions and it creates a great enthusiasm,” he said. “A lot of what I’ve done at Lamar have been small plays with upper level theater students — after a while that can get stale, so it’s great to have a different energy. It’s a great group.

“I’m excited for the project. I think it’s a great showcase of the talent in the Lamar community and a great display of the diversity in race, gender, and age on our campus. This show is a great indication of the quality of work we are capable of as a department as well as a university.”

Cardona said the play reveals the danger of selfishness.

“So much of our society affiliates worth around sense of self, allowing titles and what one owns to define one’s importance” she said. “This selfish ideology can lead to dire consequences.  Sacrificing morals in the effort to acquire status or wealth can only strip one of their humanity.”

With the mixed cast of students and faculty, the production stands apart from a mere class project.

“It’s not a grade, not for entertainment or self enlivenment, it is for the people of our generation to be a part of a story that has survived and become a part of who we are today,” Sharpless said. “Anyone can read it, but to see it alive and breathing is another story altogether.

“I hope that I will be just as important as the people to the left and right of me on stage, and that this story of all of our lives is justly told.”

And if exploring self through subtexts is not your thing, there are other reasons to see the production.

“There are sword fights, daggers, and lots of blood,” Cardona said.

No one ever accused Shakespeare of not giving the audience what it wants.

The University Theatre is located on MLK Parkway on the Lamar University campus.

Show times are 7:30 p.m., Feb. 28-March 2, with matinees at 1 p.m. March 1, and 2 p.m. March 3.

Tickets are $7 for students. $10 for LU faculty and seniors, and $15 for the general public.

For tickets, call 409-880-2250.


Issue Magazine – February 2013
Photos & Story by Andy Coughlan