Review: Local cast, crew take 'Macbeth' to new heights

Macbeth (Vania Smrkovski), left, and Macduff (Mike Stanley) are shaken after an apparent encounter with witches in "Macbeth."

Macbeth (Vania Smrkovski), left, and Macduff (Mike Stanley) are shaken after an apparent encounter with witches in "Macbeth."

'Macbeth'

  • Storyline: A Scottish lord becomes power-mad after witches tell him he will become king.
  • Rated: No MPAA rating; some violence and mild movie bloodshed
  • Rating:4.5 stars (out of five)
  • Now showing: 8 p.m. today at Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville
  • Tickets: $15 ($10 for students)

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Something wickedly engaging this way comes with "Macbeth," a locally produced film adaptation of William Shakespeare's oft-filmed play.

Two years in the making, director Rob Simpson's homegrown labor of love — starring some of Knoxville's finest stage and screen talent — demonstrates technical prowess on a variety of levels, starting with the script.

Simpson doesn't give viewers the Cliffs Notes version of "Macbeth"; rather, he bravely dives off a cliff, abandoning multiple characters and pages of plot machinery in the process. The result is a 55-minute spiral into the pitfalls of unbridled ambition, complete with murder, swordfight mayhem and suicide. The abridgement still carries the weight of the story and its themes, and the treatment won't bother anyone who appreciates Shakespeare's commitment to entertaining audiences.

In this version of "the Scottish play," King Duncan (Kevin Buchanan) decides to reward his kinsman, Macbeth (Vania Smrkovski), with another title after learning of his heroic feats in battle. Macbeth and his friend Macduff (a composite of Macduff and Banquo, played by Mike Stanley) are traveling home when they encounter a trio of witches (Amy Eakins, Kali Meister and Jennifer Osborn) who not only share the current events but also insist that Macbeth will become king. Macbeth and Macduff both seem pleased by the prophecy.

Macbeth announces the intriguing news to his wife, Lady Macbeth (Lisa Hatmaker), in a letter, and by the time he arrives at his home, she is already consumed with visions of his power. She urges Macbeth to slay Duncan in his sleep when he visits the couple, but it's only through her pressure that Macbeth is able to carry out the deed.

After Macbeth claims the throne as his own, his uneasy reign is threatened by psychological and physical threats, which in their accumulation ensure that all does not end well.

To work around the lack of budget, Simpson envisioned a post-apocalyptic setting and used a mix of industrial wasteland and natural surroundings for the action. There are no operational automobiles or electronic devices on display, though a shot of a moving train might raise an eyebrow.

The costumes are simple — mostly leather jackets and other biker-type attire. The effect fits the mood of the piece.

The acting is so good that the production really needs no frills. Smrkovski nails Macbeth's escalating drive and immorality, transitioning from good ol' thane to power-mad despot. Stanley portrays his blended character as a manifestation of integrity and action. Kenneth Mayfield makes Malcolm, Duncan's heir, grow up convincingly on screen.

Amid the strong cast, Hatmaker stands out as the scheming but doomed Lady Macbeth. Her manipulative powers are chilling, as is her eventual flirtation with madness.

Simpson, who also edited the film, captures it all in rich-looking black-and-white high definition. The gorgeous cinematography by Simpson and Edward Dumas transports viewers to another world.

Tying all the elements together is an evocative soundtrack made up of tracks by Tuatha Dea, a Gatlinburg-based music group whose eclectic style is as timeless as the play itself. This may be a shorter-than-usual "Macbeth," but in no way does it shortchange the audience.

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