“Let not light see my black and deep desires,” Macbeth says, as he plots the murders that are the hinge of Shakespeare's bloodiest play. Articulating the experience of a couple in the wake of losing a child and their simultaneous climb to power, Macbeth is a powerful tragedy that packs a highly dramatic punch as the characters grapple not just with grief, but with paranoia and the weight of inescapable guilt.
“The themes in Shakespeare, like in Macbeth—greed, hunger for power, treachery—I think that it is important for us to see the cause and effects of those things,” Amelia Ampuero, artistic director of Duke City Repertory Theatre and Lady Macbeth in this year's Shakespeare on the Plaza production of Macbeth, explained about the centuries-long resonance of Shakespeare's plays. “The ancient Greeks thought theater was important because of that cathartic thing, to be able to see something and gain the lesson from it and experience the emotional life of it without necessarily having to go through those things. … Seeing the cause and effect of our collective actions, especially right now, is important.”
And Shakespeare on the Plaza, which grew out of an old project at The Vortex Theatre called Will Power, aims to bring the significance of The Bard to Albuquerque at large by making the annual open-air staging of the plays entirely free. This year's schedule sees alternating performances of Macbeth, directed by Kate Clarke, as well as Comedy of Errors, under the direction of Dennis Elkins. Both shows opened the second weekend of June and will run through the first weekend of July. In Ampuero's opinion, the performances tend to attract more and more attention as the productions near their final weekends (she speaks from experience, last year she played Beatrice in Mucho Ado About Nothing). “It's cool to see that there is a hunger to see Shakespeare presented in this way, that people can come and sit under the stars and see these works.”
With support from The Vortex Theatre, Garcia Honda and the City of Albuquerque, the event has become expansive. There are food trucks lining Civic Plaza well before the opening lines are spoken, and beer and wine sales bolster the jubilant feeling. This, paired with high-caliber staging from many of Albuquerque's finest actors, directors and crew members, make for what is in Ampuero's estimation “a really complete experience.”
With all its “double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” Macbeth is grim, crusted with the blood shed by characters on all sides. As such, this play is well tempered with the more light-hearted Comedy of Errors, inviting viewers to choose the experience that suits their mood (or alternate weekends, perhaps). Dark as it may be, in this particular production of the piece, the direction has taken a slightly unusual tack. Instead of depicting Lady Macbeth as manipulative and power starved (per usual), Clarke wanted to explore the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and their path to the throne, in light of their recent loss of a child.
“In looking at their relationship,” Ampuero illumined, “the esteem in which they hold each other, that was a really fascinating and rare thing in these plays. … It's one of the few marriages you see in a Shakespeare play where they have equal power with each other.” That dynamic means that each is the support of the other. In light of that, Ampuero suggested that Lady Macbeth wants to “build her husband up after the death of their child … because she felt that was something they could both focus their energies on—that they both need that victory in some way, in the throes of their grief.” Yet, Ampuero continued, “in their grief, they've lost sight of their humanity.”
Set to the particular and enduring language of Shakespeare, the play takes on great gravity. The language itself, in fact, is vital to what is special and important about sharing these works during Shakespeare on the Plaza. “It's important to see Shakespeare for the same reason that it is important to read and see … classics that come from a different time. It's important for us to hear that kind of language. I think that hearing that and seeing those kinds of stories performed continues to spark some electricity in the brain.” Having access to those words performed on a stage with all their booming intonations or shrinking whispers, as they were meant to be experienced, is a great gift to the public.
To that end, Ampuero said, “I think a lot of times theater can be seen as a luxury, and it's not. It is something vital and important, it’s the best form of diplomacy that we have. In a world where we can be lost in our phones and our singular experiences, theater is something that still brings people together to have a communal experience. That's important, too.”
And finding a seat in the house for the evening is as easy as showing up to Civic Plaza. A full schedule of this year's Shakespeare on the Plaza can be found online at newmexicoshakespeare.org.