There are many superstitions in theater, but no play is more steeped in mystery than Shakespeare's “Macbeth.” The bad mojo comes with the play regardless, but saying Macbeth in the theatre is doubly bad, and so it is referred to not by name, but as the Scottish play.
Real events have occurred during productions of the play that feed the superstition, everything from an actual murder on stage to audience riots in which people were killed. Add to that belief that the witches incantation in the play is partially real, and you get the stuff that legends are made of.
These days the curse is not taken so seriously, but it's still observed more as preservation of theatre lore and custom rather than actual superstition.
The supposed curse was held at bay on opening night of Macbeth, mostly, as the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presented a compelling production of the Shakespearean tragedy.
In the play, Macbeth (Timothy D. Stickney) and Banquo (Jason Cannon) are returning from victorious battles when they encounter three witches, who prophesy that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and eventually become king. When King Duncan (Jerry Vogel) actually names Macbeth Cawdor, Macbeth wonders if the rest of the witches prophesy will be true and he will become King.
Lady Macbeth (Caris Vujcec) prods Macbeth into murdering Duncan. Macbeth has doubts, but Lady Macbeth—in an early representation of the nagging, emasculating wife—questions his masculinity and pushes him into the deed. Macbeth commits the foul deed and immediately becomes King.
What follows is Macbeth's increasingly desperate attempts to maintain his position. He dispatches assassins to murder Banquo, whom the witches have said will beget kings. That evening Banquo's ghost appears at a dinner, which frightens him enough that he returns to the witches who warn him to beware the nobleman named Macduff (Michael James Reed), but further say he has nothing to fear from any man born of woman.
Macbeth—taking no chances—sends his assassins to murder Macduff, and though Macduff himself is not present, they murder Macduff's children while forcing Lady Macduff (Nancy Bell) to watch, and then murder her as well in one of the most effective and horrific scenes of the play, though no stage blood is utilized.
Macduff vows revenge and when armies are raised to challenge Macbeth’s forces, Macduff confronts Macbeth on the battlefield. Macbeth is stricken with horror when Macduff informs him that he is not of woman born, having been ripped from his mother's womb, or by what we would now call Cesarian section.
Timothy D. Stickney as Macbeth delivers a compelling, natural performance that belies his skill. He's an otherwise normal man who is swallowed by his ambition, even as the stage will swallow him—literally—at the end of the play, like the maws of hell clamping shut on man who has become the personification of evil.
Equally strong is Caris Vujcec as Lady Macbeth, whose descent into madness and suicide is expertly acted, especially where she tries to wash the blood that isn't there from her hands. Jerry Vogel is strong as gregarious and kingly Duncan, who inspires loyalty among his men. Jason Cannon in the role of Banquo is strong as Macbeth's friend and charming as a father to his son.
Macduff and Lady Macduff, played by Michael James Reed and Nancy Bell respectively, are both exemplary, and Bell manages in one short scene to give a complete picture of the character. It is her performance when her children are murdered that gives the scene such horror.
There are too many great performances to list them all, but there isn't a weak link. Each actor had a command of Shakespeare that will allow anyone to follow the story. Simply put, they know what they are saying, and so the audience knows too.
Set designer Michael Ganio gives us a simple but effective set that allows the play to be the star with the language and the story as the focus. The lights by Kenton Yeager and sound by Rusty Wandall are both without flaw, and costumes by Dorothy Marshall Englis are superb and, like the set, colorless, until Macbeth and his wife enter in their stately red robes. The space lights up in a remarkable transformation.
The curse of Macbeth was not in evidence backstage, according to Jerry Vogel, who plays Duncan, but there was a minor mishap on the stage. In a scene where Macbeth jumps on a table, the dinnerware was scattered to the extent that some pieces landed in the audience. One lone silver bowl came to rest far out on a walkway, clearly visible. The bowl drew the attention of the audience. Macbeth simply walked out during a speech, picked the bowl up, used it in his monologue, and took it back to the stage, as though it was supposed to be that way.
That is what makes live theater exciting. Things happen, and actors compensate and adapt on the spot. It would take a mighty curse indeed to hurt this fine production of “That Scottish Play.”