Review: ‘Dunsinane’ at Marin Theatre Company (***)

Aldo Billingslea is fierce as the English general Siward in Marin Theatre Company’s production of “Dunsinane.” Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

by Charles Kruger 

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.T

In Shakespeare’s unmentionable Scottish play (you know the one) Malcolm is the legitimate heir to the Scottish throne, who has been usurped by the tyrant Macbeth. But as McDuff is about to lead his soldiers into battle to reclaim the throne for Malcom, he (Malcolm) makes a surprising confession. He claims to be no better than Macbeth, and confides that, were he to become King, he would be as much the bloodthirsty tyrant as Macbeth himself. A moment later, he assures Macduff he is just kidding.

Scholars have long debated the significance of this speech. Is Shakespeare suggesting that nothing will change when Macbeth is replaced? That the horror of Dunsinane is existential, a horror that lives in all humanity that can not be ended by the removal of Macbeth? Is that which is most horrifying about Macbeth not specific to the man, but something that lives within us all, even the most noble? If not: why do we continue to suffer the inhumanity of wars, even after stability is restored? War is forever, and peace temporary. What happens after war leads, inevitably, to the next war. It’s hopeless.

In “Dunsinane,” playwright David Grieg, seems to be addressing this conundrum. Macbeth is dead, and presumably order can return to Scotland. Malcolm is King, and the British General Siward is here to prop him up and make sure that things proceed appropriately, for England. The restored Scotland which Malcolm rules is, as far as Siward is concerned, to be a puppet state and, therefore, any peace is likely to be precarious. Siward’s position is complicated by the presence of Malcolm’s mother, Queen Gruach, Macbeth’s widow. (In Shakespeare’s version, of course, Lady Macbeth committed suicide, but Greig’s version is more historically accurate.) The situation is complicated when Siward falls in love with the lady. As this story unfolds, we are shown various perspectives from Siward’s focus on his duty to England, to Malcom’s attempts to play both ends against the middle, to Gruach’s philosophical cynicism, and, not least important, that of soldiers on the ground who just want to survive the battle.

Does this sound confusing? It is. I’ve done my best to summarize here, but I’m not certain I’ve accurately caught the point. “Dunsinane,” is full of sound and fury, but seems to signify very little.

But it’s an exciting, hot mess. There are well staged battle scenes, philosophical speeches galore, some very intense love scenes between Siward and Queen Gruach, and a fearless, over-the-top, scenery chewing, gallivant of a performance by Josh Odsess-Rubin as Malcolm that is absolutely delicious and gets the audience through the boring parts.

Four theatre students from Tamalpais High School (which co-produced this production) acquit themselves well as soldiers who serve as a narrative chorus. They are Brendan Barger, Jack Hochschild, Kira Keane, and Molly Lyons. May their stars continue to shine brightly.

“Dunsinane” continues at Marin Theatre Company through October 16. For further information click here.


Rating: *** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Dunsinane,” by David Grieg. Produced by Marin Theatre Company in partnership with Tamalpais High School’s Conservatory Theatre Ensemble. Directed by Jason Minadakis and Rob Lufty. Composer: Impiled Music/Chris Houston. Vocal Composer: Perina Goddessmen. Fight/Dance/Movement/Intimacy Director: Zoë Swenson-Graham. Scenic Designers: Jason Minadakis and Jeff Klein. Costume Designer: Brooke Jennings. Lighting and Projection Designer: Mike Post. Sound Designer: Will McCandless. Dramaturg: Scott Horstein. Vocal/Dialect Coach: Christine Adaire. Props Designer :Leon Rudisill.


English Army/A Scottish Boy/Boy Prisoner/ Kintyre, a Clan Chief of Scotland: Brendan Barger. Siward, An English General: Aldo Billingslea. Egham, Siward’s English Leitenant/Luss, a Clan Chief of Scotland. The Boy Soldier: Jack Hochschild. English Army/One of Gruach’s Woman/The Hen Girl: Kira Keane. English Army/One of Gruach’s Woman: Molly Lyons. The Sargeant/A Scottish Soldier/Malcolm, the King of Scotland/English Army: Josh Odsess-Rubin. Osborn, Siward’s Son/Gruach, the Queen/English Army: Lisa Anne Porter. Macduff, Siward’s Scottish Lieutenant/English Army: Michael Ray Wisely.

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