Once again I am in awe of Paul Moser and the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.
For several years now we have been graced with quality productions performed in repertory right downtown in Hall Auditorium. As amazing as all of it has been I feel a particular kinship for this season’s offerings as there is a bit of personal history associated with each choice: “Anne of Green Gables,” “Inherit the Wind,” and “MacBeth.”
When our children were youngsters we both read the Anne series and watched the episodes depicting the books on TV. The “watching” part came first and how well I remember the night Matthew fell. That was right before the VCR popped out and our screen was filled with nothing but fuzz. We screamed out loud, not knowing his ultimate fate and were driven by virtue of the disaster to the books, so maybe that was a good thing!
When I was director of drama at Oberlin High School, one of the productions that made me proud was when we tackled “Inherit the Wind.” Seniors Jake Mercer, Mike Frye, Ian Cowley, and Jeff Dobbins tackled the leads of Henry Drummond, Matthew Brady, E.K. Hornbeck, and Bertram Cates with a maturity well beyond their years. Our production included more than 30 students, even pulling folks from the middle school for the jury, which folded in new drama club members for future years.
But it’s MacBeth I am closest to. As a high school English teacher, I encountered this wonderfully compact play over and over and always looked forward to it. I maintain it has something for everyone: the supernatural aspect of the witches and the ghosts, the sword fights, the murders, the intrigue, the ambition followed by guilt, and even a soupcon of humor with the drunken guard. It was always an adventure to look forward to as young minds traversed the rocky road of Shakespeare!
Dave Crifasi (who proudly dubbed himself the “Dragon”) was our biology teacher and also our computer guru. One year as we were reading MacBeth aloud, he popped into my room to fix a computer just as henchmen had been sent to murder MacDuff’s family. Right on cue he said in the most innocent voice, “Mother, they have killed me!” It was the exact line at the exact right moment! We were stunned! Oddly enough he repeated the exact same thing the following year. Was he outside my room just listening for his entrance? We may never know.
My final year at OHS, I was lucky enough to teach “Shakespeare Through Performance” as an OCEAN course in conjunction with Oberlin College. We immersed ourselves in the bard throughout the year, not only reading, but also bringing scenes and characters to life on our stage and through various exercises. We were blessed to travel outside of the school to see performances in several venues and I particularly looked forward to seeing a production of MacBeth at a nearby college (not Oberlin). It came in May. It was a much anticipated highlight, and, indeed, it proved to be just that, but not in the way I expected. It was… how to say it? It was just… (I must be very careful how I word this in print) well, it was dreadful. Sometimes directors get carried away with wanting to see things through new eyes, to twist things the way the play “should” have been but in reality wasn’t. This particular bastardization was egregious, changing the entire intent of the show. Add that MacBeth himself was a scrawny 18-year-old, without any of the talent of Jake, Mike, Ian, or Jeff.
I was proud that my students not only knew but could enumerate in great detail all of the reasons why it was an abomination. Luckily there were only weeks to go in the year since all someone had to do in class was whisper “MacBeth” and all of us would dissolve into whoops of laughter and we would once again tick off the litany of everything that had been wrong with the production.
Not so with Paul Moser’s magnificent “MacBeth.” His cast exudes confidence. The shadowy lighting enhances. His use of sound underscores perfectly. Insertion of modern technology punctuates the battle scenes gloriously. I love his blocking, his stage pictures, the flow of the production. Oh, would that my now-grown-up group of students could have seen this marvelous production instead of that other. We would have had fewer laughs but they would have really felt the messages of this powerful play.
And it’s right downtown. It’s a hop, skip, and a jump away from Amherst and mere miles away from Wellington. Just to raise the ante a bit — it’s free. If you have not seen any of these three plays, make reservations now via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pat Gorske Price graduated from Oberlin High School and taught English and drama there for 12 years. In retirement she continues to enjoy writing and theater. Comments can be made to email@example.com.