You know the bit about the distinctions between British and American English.
The tiresome response to any news of travel to the British Isles, the tripe of many banal sitcom asides, the stuff you say when you don’t know how to flirt. Arsenal is a football team that plays with their feet. A bum bag isn’t a homeless person’s sack. The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t a band who crack squash. And my personal favorite intensifier from the UK, “bloody,” a word unfit to be printed in posh publications.
The Oxford English Dictionary reckons the first use of “bloody” as an expletive was in the sixteenth century, but it didn’t enter into common parlance until many years after Shakespeare’s death. Ashley Montagu’s The Anatomy of Swearing devotes an entire chapter to the word, so what do we mean when we say “Macbeth is Shakespeare’s bloodiest play”? It has about the same number of murders as Titus Andronicus, but despite a severed head, Macbeth can’t compete with Titus’s six severed body parts and variety pack of sexual violence. Perhaps the obscene connotation of “bloody” is more fitting. Although when one considers more than twenty people died during riots in New York in 1849 when competing versions of Macbeth were presented at different theaters, the grisly meaning of bloody seems more fitting.
The production of the Scottish play set to open tonight at Thomas Nelson and run through next weekend is bloody. Very bloody. Maybe Titus wins on a technicality, but this production of Macbeth is, to borrow from the great American poet, Jeff Tweedy, bloodier than blood. It is bloodier than birth, bloodier than death, and bloodier than war. What this production makes sure you do not forget is evil is in our blood. It’s in our roots and at our base. Wickedness is our flat, ungiving fate. Its drip is ceaseless and its burn is slow.
Macbeth is furrowed out into the audience by John Cauthen. I felt chills in my spine when he delivered these famous lines:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Is the evil within Macbeth’s blood to begin with, or does he become a murderous tyrant once he snuffs outs Duncan in the second Act? One thing is for sure: once Macbeth usurps Duncan there is no turning back. Each tomorrow is more certain than the first. Each turn of evil is more inevitable than the former. Each murder is more destined than the previous. Each drop of blood is bloodier than them all.
The set is a luminescent tree. Tortured spirits live within its tightly-ridged husk. The effect is unnerving. You feel it when you enter the theater. By the time the lights go down and you hear the witches, handled masterfully by Beth Beasley, Zuri Petteway, and Sienna Waldo, you are feeling very uneasy. Very disturbed. Your emotions are heightened and aware that much blood will be spilled in front of your eyes. Hours dreadful and things strange, indeed.
Brianna Allen’s Lady Macbeth is pure evil. She is the serpent and the flower. Her ambition is both hers and not hers, though it is clear she means it when she says:
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief!
Duncan’s sad fate is handled with majesty by Eric Powers, and Danon Middleton’s Macduff lays subtle hints everywhere that he may be the truly ambitious one. The production casts a dull and certain spell, like sleep. It is bloody, bold, and resolute. It is another masterful step by a program that continues to build on its past successes. I recommend this production of Macbeth to anyone who isn’t afraid of the evil in their blood.