West Salem stages post-apocalyptic interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

Mady Breitling as Lady Macbeth and Isaiah Lane as Macbeth in dress rehearsal for the West Salem High School theater production (Courtesy/Joe Gottsch)

The witches’ cauldron is a five-gallon plastic bucket. Shields and axes are made in part with discarded license plates, and pieces of refuse litter the stage.

Audience members sit close to the action, just feet away from the many swordfights.

This is Macbeth like you haven’t seen it before.

West Salem High School drama students kick off their post-apocalyptic interpretation of the classic Shakespeare tale of power, corruption and manipulation Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

“The audience is on the stage with us. We want them to feel what we’re feeling,” said Isaiah Lane, a junior who plays Macbeth.

The setting was the brainchild of Kayla Mansur, the school’s technical director, who’s worked for years in several Salem theaters. West Salem traditionally stages a Shakespearian play once a year, and Macbeth is her favorite.

“I’ve been waiting for the right time to do this show,” she said. This year, the department had a group of students she felt could pull it off.

Isaiah Lane as Macbeth trades blows with Victoria Beede as Macduff during a rehearsal of West Salem High School’s production of “Macbeth” on Feb. 24, 2020 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The black box staging, where the audience is seated onstage close to the action, was a way of drawing people into the performance’s emotions, cast members said.

“It is a play full of hard emotions,” said senior Connor O’Ryan, who plays Banquo. The cast was rehearsing his death scene Monday after the character is betrayed by his former friend Macbeth.

Shakespeare wrote his shows without a wall between audience and performers, often writing long soliloquies which actors deliver directly to the audience. The intimate staging leans into that tradition.

“I love in-your-face theater,” Mansur said.

O’Ryan said the action, dance and use of music help connect to audience members who may struggle to follow Shakespearian dialogue in written form.

“Even for the people who don’t understand Shakespeare, we like to incorporate a lot of physicality,” he said.

The post-apocalyptic setting was inspired by the popularity of post-apocalyptic fiction, whether in print or on TV, which gave Mansur a lot of inspiration to draw from.

“I hate staging Shakespeare in traditional Shakespeare,” she said.

Students said the show has pushed them as actors, from the carefully choreographed fight scenes to the range of emotion on display.

“It’s a new experience because I’m so used to playing a comic-type role,” Lane said.

The West Salem High School drama production opens Thursday, Feb. 27 and runs on Feb. 28 and 29 and March 6 with shows at 7 p.m., and on March 7 with a 2 p.m. matinee and 7 p.m. production.

Tickets are $10 and available online or at the door. The shows is in the school auditorium, 1776 Titan Dr. N.W.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.