By Bradley Rohlf
Sectarian violence in the near future has rapidly changed the local landscape, and a compassionate and influential family have opened their doors to a group of refugees. This is not the world news, but rather the latest installment of immersive theatre from Rebel and Misfits Productions. Directed by Sean Patrick Higgins and Kelly Hummert, “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” is a striking and beautiful retelling of Shakespeare’s classic.
For the uninitiated, immersive theatrical experiences are centered around modifying and intensifying the proximity between actor and audience. It is not interactive, but there may be some element of physical touch, and actors and audience have fewer physical barriers and movement restrictions in relation to each other compared to traditional staging.
Within this structure there is a greater opportunity to explore deeper world building and tone development. This is an element in which Rebel and Misfits particularly shines – beginning with the audience’s invitation to Inverness (available to read on the company’s website, it doubles as rules of engagement for the evening), the theatrical experience begins even before the audience enters the play space.
Refugees (the audience) meet the head of security (Jordan Woods) at a predetermined parking lot in Soulard, and are shuttled by bus to the castle, a previously undisclosed location in Old North St. Louis.
Upon arrival at the castle Inverness, an old church sanctuary that has been converted into a skate park, the audience is welcome to explore the grounds and interact with the cast in character. You may meet Lady Macbeth (Kelly Hummert) doting on the infant child of her dear friend Lady Macduff (Hailey Medrano). Or you may be invited to share a Scotch with your host, Macbeth (Sean Patrick Higgins), as Banquo (Shane Signorino) regales you with tales of the war.
After some time for exploration, the audience is ushered into the main atrium and the story unfolds around us.
Macbeth and Banquo are returning from battle and are confronted by three witches (Cynthia Pohlson, Alison Linderer, and Tielere Cheatem) who share several prophecies, including that Macbeth will be king. He writes a letter to his wife, and she gets really excited about this news.
Back at home Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to kill the King, Duncan (Jeff Cummings). They frame the guards for the murder, and the next morning another military commander, Macduff (Spencer Sickmann), finds the King’s body. Malcolm (Paul Cereghino), the King’s son and otherwise heir apparent, flees over fear for his life and suspicion of conspiracy. Macbeth ascends to the throne.
Overtaken by paranoia, Macbeth begins ordering the murder of a whole bunch of people, including his friend Banquo and Banquo’s son, Fleance (Kevin Corpuz). Everything starts falling apart and eventually Macduff organizes an army to remove the now tyrant Macbeth from power.
Like any performance of Shakespeare using original language, it is beneficial as an audience member to re-familiarize yourself with the plot and characters before attending. However, as with any of the strongest performances of Shakespeare, this practice is not necessary to understand the action.
And there is a lot of action. The combat, dancing, and other movement pieces are a feast for the eyes – choreographed by Jordan Woods, with fight choreography by Michael Rossmy.
The full production is so unified that is impossible to call out a single designer for their particular contribution. With costumes by Eileen Engel, a set by Joe Novak, lit by Jon Ontiveros, sounds composed by Adam Frick-Verdine, sound design by Sasha Gonzalez, and sound board operated by Cameron Griffiths, all deserve recognition for their superior technical achievement.
Such an ambitious staging comes with its challenges, and by and large this team makes it look easy.
Of course, due to the nature of the immersion some challenges are unavoidable, and whether or not they are a hindrance is a matter of tolerance. The actors are not mic’d in the cavernous space, so depending on where you have placed yourself you may miss some of the poetry. I don’t count this as a fault, but those expecting to hang on every syllable may be disappointed.
Full enjoyment of the piece does require a little work. Some seating is available, but if you want to be close to the action, the ability to stand comfortably for a few hours is beneficial.
Shakespeare with guns in an ambiguously contemporary setting is not new, but unless you are a well-traveled connoisseur of all cutting-edge theatrical forms, this experience is guaranteed to give a fresh perspective on this story and the way theatre functions. There is currently nowhere else in St. Louis to experience the type of work that Hummert’s company is producing.