Darrell D’Silva as Siward and Siobhan Redmond as Gruach (Lady Macbeth) in "Dunsinane." (KPO Photo)
At moment, Hollywood has gone full-on sequel-crazy, sprouting up second, third, and fourth go-rounds of all the stalwart tent poles, making sure their cash flow continues ad-infinitum with each successive (-ly worse) installment.
Conversely, the generally more refined theater world has yet to catch outright sequelitis, perhaps for fear of seeming gouache or in an attempt to avoid backlash from its highbrow patrons. Whatever the reason may be, it certainly wasn’t heeded by playwright David Greig, who put to paper hot only a sequel to a theater piece, but a second installment to one of the most renowned dramatic works ever produced: William Shakespeare’s “MacBeth.”
Indeed, this past weekend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. welcomed to its stage the Shakespearian secondi “Dunsinane,” presented by the esteemed Royal Shakepeare Company in tandem with the historic National Theater of Scotland.
Directed by Roxana Silbert, the play begins where MacBeth ends—during the climactic battle between English and Scottish forces at Dunsinane Hill. Just as in the original play, the traitorous MacDuff (Keith Fleming) beheads MacBeth as the heroic English general Siward (Darrell D’Silva) sieges the city only to learn that his beloved son has died.
From this familiar starting point, Greig’s story diverges into complex web of chamber intrigue and political maneuvering as Siward attempts to bring peace and unity to a fractured Scotland. Before he can install the petulant snob Malcom (Ewan Donald) as King, he must first appease MacBeth’s infamously manipulative widow Gruach (Siobhan Redmond), who aims to install her own son on the throne.
To prevent this multifaceted narrative from becoming too impenetrable, Greig wisely chooses to focus half of the plot on a young Boy Soldier (Tom Gill), whose youthful naiveté acts as a kind of audience surrogate, asking the questions we might like to ourselves. Siward, being a man, finds himself seduced and ultimately used by the vicious Lady MacBeth, who disrupts his plan to wed her off to Malcom and escapes into the forest.
As Siward attempts to break the morale of the fierce Scotsman inhabiting Dunsinane, he must also face the treachery of weak-willed hedonist Malcolm, whose lush attempts to broker agreements with the surrounding tribes nearly undo all of the hard-earned English gains. The screws tighten further and further until Siward reaches a breaking point, turning the play into an alternate world meditation on the same themes of madness and chaos that the Bard so aptly depicted in the initial work.
Though “Dunsinane” can hardly hold a birthday candle to “MacBeth” (then again, what can?), it stands on its own as a solid work of Elizabethan drama wrought large for a new generation. The sets and effects are tremendous (a climactic scene in a snowdrift evokes tremendous feeling by actually turning down the temperature in the theater as convincing fake snow drifts from the rafters), and the Scottish folk accompaniment is divinely beautiful.
In addition, many of the performances are truly powerful, most notably D’Silva’s bold, self-assured Siward and Redmond’s tempestuously Gruach. The plot, for the most part, is tight and moves well, but there are very occasional scenes—usually ones meant as humorous interludes involving the young soldiers—which go on far too long and accomplish far too little dramatically.
The one real issue with the play is that it packs so little of the revelatory relish for the English tongue that the great Shakespeare mastered in his seminal works. It feels at times as though the book was written in a half-contemporary form of “period” English, akin to something out of, say, “Game Of Thrones.”
Now, I understand that audiences for period drama are dwindling and that, if people are to be put in seats, they must be able to understand what’s unfolding before them. However, as a lover of Early Modern English and its lyrical bounce, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed in the blunt populism of the language in “Dunsinane.”
That nit-pic aside, the play works like Gangbusters—a funny, fiery follow up to a universal tale.
“Dunsinane” runs through April 5th. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.thewallis.org.