Section: Arts

StageFemmes brings new feminine perspective to Macbeth

StageFemmes brings new feminine perspective to Macbeth

Mercer, left, and Preston | AMANDA KUO

On Thursday evening, the dark and stormy night fittingly ushered in the three-night StageFemmes production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Adapted by Lee Sunday Evans and directed by Chiara Rothenberg ’25, this radical production featured three women acting all of the roles: Dawsen Mercer ’26, Elaine Preston ’25 and Elexis Diaz ’27. Macbeth invited the audience to cram into the Harlene Marley Black Box Theater for an intimate, fast-paced performance. For approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission, the cast breathed new life into this bloody, violent Scottish tragedy by presenting a tale of female rage and hubris.

The trio opened with a haunting portrayal of the Weird Sisters as they foreshadowed Macbeth’s calamitous fate before the actors went on to embody the rest of the characters. Mercer played the titular role of Macbeth, seldom becoming other characters, but Diaz and Preston, who played Lady Macbeth throughout the play, were constantly shifting roles. The actors did not have costume changes, and the audience had to rely on their knowledge of Macbeth and the staging to make sense of which characters the actors were embodying at any given time. Yet these changes and new perspectives raise the question: What does a female perspective do to subvert such a traditionally masculine tale?

In an email to the Collegian, Mercer wrote of the gender-bent version of Macbeth: “In these roles, we witness violence and passion differently through the lenses of women. The events of the story become all the more demonic and dark when confronted with womanly rage and (quite frankly) insanity. I think it’s honestly stunning to see the storytelling of an ultimately male story through a woman’s mouth and body.” While there were moments of levity, such as when the actors declared, “We are men,” Mercer’s assessment of the impact of gender on the play’s greater meanings rings true. In the original Macbeth, Lady Macbeth can only assert power through imploring and manipulating her husband, perpetuating the stereotype that women are sly and conniving. When Lady Macbeth urges her husband to kill Duncan despite his reservations, she challenges his masculinity, saying, “When you durst do it, then you were a man.” The irony of their roles as a woman who has no qualms about violence and a man who cannot bring himself to commit murder is made ridiculous by the all-female cast even as the limiting nature of gender is displayed. The attention showered on the gendered nature of Macbeth in Evans’ adaptation forces modern audiences to grapple with the state of gender roles today.

By staging the production in the Black Box Theater, the audience’s proximity to the actors created a shared sense of responsibility for the deadly consequences of Macbeth’s search for power. Both as the Weird Sisters and as other characters, the actors seemingly asked the audience why they were there and begged them to consider their role as bystanders to the bloody events of the play. The spatial closeness of the actors also placed the emotional and physical demands of their performances on full display. The effort required to scream or pretend to murder another actor was unmistakable in the shaky voices and bodies of the actors in the aftermath of their exertions. One slightly disappointing aspect of Macbeth was the actors’ consistent use of scripts throughout the play. Although they knew their lines and seemed only to refer to their binders in moments of uncertainty or scene changes, it was, at times, enough to pull the audience out of a scene. Given how strong the actors’ performances were, one can only imagine how haunting the production might have been without this distraction.The three-night run of StageFemmes’ Macbeth brought fresh twists and meanings to a familiar tale, calling the audience to view the classic play through a modern feminist lens. With remarkably little reliance on costume, set or space, Rothenberg masterfully bridged the gap between the 16th-century play and 21st-century audiences.

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