Lynn Robert Berg as Macbeth. Photo / Roger Mastroianni

It’s back to basics with Great Lakes’ ‘Macbeth’

By Bob Abelman

The more theater one sees in Cleveland, the more familiar one becomes with each theater company’s wheelhouse – the types of plays and productions they are most capable and comfortable performing.

Despite changing its name from Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival to Great Lakes Theater Festival in 1985, to capture the broader body of work produced beyond Shakespeare, and then shortening it to Great Lakes Theater to best reflect its broader programming format, one thing is clear to all who attend its plays: Great Lakes Theater does the Bard best.

Regulars also know that the works of Shakespeare are not impervious to creative reinvention by the company’s brain trust in terms of the time and place in which the plays take place.

In 2013, “Richard III” was set in modern times and staged within cold glass and chrome corporate headquarters.

For its 2010 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the comedy was transported from the 1590s to the hallucinogenic 1960s, complete with surreal landscapes, period costuming, a Volkswagen Beetle on stage and the interweaving of Beatles tunes to facilitate the storytelling.

In 2008, “Macbeth” was infused with classic Japanese styles, sensibilities and theater traditions, and the entire production was underscored with live percussion based on the bold rhythms of Taiko drummers. The Far East met the Thane of Scotland.

Not in the current production of “Macbeth” under Charlie Fee’s direction, who also happened to direct the 2008 staging. Here, the production resembles what one would imagine to be the original performance of the tragedy in 1606, though a few modern-day bells and whistles help create the illusion.

Scenic designer Russell Metheny employs a fixed wooden structure for the set that is surrounded by galleries for audience seating, reminiscent of Elizabethan playhouses. And though below stage hydraulics are used upon occasion and to great effect, this is a place where Shakespeare would seem at home.

Rick Martin incorporates two candle-lit chandeliers into his lighting design, though a dramatic use of floodlights and spotlights provides much of the ambiance and special effects. Kim Krumm Sorenson embraces the influence of historical costuming in her design and fight choreographer Ken Merckx does the same regarding his choice and wielding of weaponry. Sound designer Matthew Webb accentuates every dramatic ending of a scene, which director Fee orchestrates with astounding speed and grace, with sharp percussion.

Everything seems period and appropriate.

All this allows the production to focus on the play’s glorious language, complex characters and stellar performances, which theater purists would argue is the obvious choice. It is hard to argue.

In case you missed any of the five previous Great Lakes Theater stagings, “Macbeth” is about an army general’s (Lynn Robert Berg) bloody rise to power and the guilt-ridden pathology of evil deeds that follow.

His ambition, and the horrific path he takes toward being crowned King of Scotland, are foreseen in the prophecies of three dreadlock adorned sisters (Laura Welsh Berg, Jodi Dominick and Meredith Lark) who are witches. Macbeth assassinates the reigning king (David Anthony Smith), murders his best friend (Jonathan Dyrud), and kills the wife (Jodi Dominick) and children (Niko Ustin) of his key rival MacDuff (Nick Steen).

Lady Macbeth’s (Erin Partin) blind passion for power leads her into an unnatural alliance with witchcraft, which results in insomnia, madness, suicide, and some of the best soliloquies ever written for the stage, which are delivered with incredible passion and precision by the actor.

Everyone in this top-notch ensemble, which includes Great Lakes veterans Dougfred Miller, Andrew May and Aled Davis, is remarkable.

But Berg, who played Banquo in the 2008 production, is brilliant as Macbeth. In the program notes, Fee remarks that Macbeth is a character plagued by an inability to stop himself from thinking forward and projecting himself through a future that is dangerous and problematic. Berg’s every expression, every movement, hints at this and then he recoils in pain and self-consciousness when he realizes that it has. Brilliant.

This and everything else on stage reminds us of Great Lakes Theater’s wheelhouse and how fortunate we are to be able to experience it in person.

Great Lakes Theater’s “Macbeth”  

WHERE: The Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., Cleveland

WHEN: Through April 15

TICKETS & INFO: $13-$80, call 216-241-6000 or visit

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on April 1, 2018.

Lead image: Lynn Robert Berg as Macbeth. Photo / Roger Mastroianni