‘The Scottish play’ lives

Inspired performances give weight to Rogue Theatre’s Macbeth

After 400 years, the story of Macbeth (Joe Hilsee) and his Lady (Hilary Tellesen) still doesn’t end well.

After 400 years, the story of Macbeth (Joe Hilsee) and his Lady (Hilary Tellesen) still doesn’t end well.

Photo By matt siracusa

1078 Gallery 820 Broadway, www.1078gallery.org, www.chicorogue.com, 343-1973

Primarily on the quality and sophistication of its characters, the Rogue Theatre of Chico’s current run of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a stirring, and winning, production.

Without elaborate big-stage backdrops, Rogue’s Spartan sets always make the viewer focus directly onto its players. Offering Shakespeare in this way is ambitious; for pulling it off director Shawn Galloway, the cast and crew deserve great praise. And make no mistake, this is not a satirical Rogue interpretation of the classic—which the troupe could likely well accomplish. Indeed it is the real Macbeth, the classic story of thanes and aristocrats, Goths and red-blooded killers.

The story’s major themes—ambition, temptation, anger, anguish and sorrow— are all effectively represented here. Shakespeare’s complex version of what compels the dark side of human behavior is well scrutinized by the Roguesters. And despite some 17th-century Elizabethan-era English that is foreign to today’s conversational vocabulary, the actors’ actions and facial expressions leave little doubt to the meaning of Shakespeare’s original script.

Local star Joe Hilsee (in the role of Macbeth) and Hilary Tellesen (Lady MacBeth), along with the versatile Quentin St. George (Duncan, etc.), and up-and-coming local drama star John Duncan (as Banquo) consummately lead a cast of 10 through the bloody drama and tragedy that is still profound and moving some four centuries after the Bard scratched it out with a quill pen.

Hilsee is the consummate Macbeth—assertive, lecherous, deranged and vulnerable. Hilsee’s soliloquies are brilliant, perfectly channeling Macbeth’s persona with unabashed vocal declarations, facial expressions and body movements. His extreme grief at seeing a vision of the dead Duncan, and Tellesen’s unsuccessful attempt to cover for his demented state of mind as they host a party, are particularly moving.

As the conniving Lady Macbeth, Tellesen, who goes through more costume changes than Lady Gaga during a concert, is equally uncanny in her ability to accommodate her character’s many dimensions—supportive yet manipulative wife, ruthless killer and glamorous woman of high society—all while powerfully projecting Shakespeare’s formidable vernacular.

Duncan’s portrayal of Banquo, who is at first Macbeth’s confidant, and later not so much, was the most pleasant surprise, as many in the house, including several Chico-area theater vets, had yet to see him perform. Duncan’s large stature and comfort with articulating Shakespearean verbiage helped push the production’s merit over the top.

St. George’s ability to master any role, including three performed here to the hilt—as regicide victim King Duncan, the perfectly drunken Porter and a reporter, was less of a surprise given his proven dramatic range.

Brian Sampson, as Malcolm, the wide-eyed potential heir to the throne; Rob Wilson as Macduff, the grief-stricken father who dares to duel with Macbeth; and Susan Shelton, who refreshingly offers a female persona to Ross, a Scottish noble, all deserve more acclaim than space here allows.

The Witches, dubbed The Weird Sisters here, are a sexy treat. Attired in black, with fishnet stockings, high-heeled boots and plenty of cleavage, the playful but evil trio, seductively played by Stephanie Adams, Robyn Hafer and Delovely Delisa, add plenty of titillating pizzazz to Macbeth’s life, and the audience’s experience. And they aren’t just pretty to gaze at; each contributed to the Shakespearean dialogue.

While the production does, for all intents and purposes, stick with Shakespeare’s original, some modernalities do appear. Rather than period costumes, the men generally wear unobtrusive black trousers and long-sleeved, blue Oxford shirts. A few cell phones, a snorting of white powder and a reporter’s microphone appear in the mix, but do not detract.

Twenty-foot-high temporary walls, projected backdrops and a big, sturdy lighting system overhead give the 1078 Gallery more of a theater feel than ever before. Kudos to Amber Miller for a set design that made the most of large, white wooden cubes that quickly turned from perches for the Weird Sisters, to a bar, to a living room scene and more, and all believably so.