There is an old Scottish proverb, “Eiridh tonn air uisge balbh.” Roughly translated, it means, “Waves will rise on silent waters.”
Equal parts threat and hope, the concept that change, hope and danger come out of the seeming calm is at the dramatically beating heart of Dunsinane, the Marin Theatre Company’s season-opening collaboration with Tamalpais High School’s Conservatory Theatre Ensemble (CTE). It runs in Mill Valley through Oct. 16.
Dunsinane begins where Shakespeare’s Macbeth ends, with the battle of Birnam Woods. As Lord Siward, Earl of Northumberland (a solid Aldo Billingslea) and his soldiers take the castle, they find that they have been lied to and that Macbeth’s wife, Queen Gruach (Lisa Anne Porter), is still alive. Even worse for Siward and Macduff (a well-grounded Michael Ray Wisely), the queen has a son.
Much to the vexation of King Malcolm (Josh Odsess-Rubin) and the conniving opportunist Lord Egham (a very funny Daniel Duque-Estrada), Siward is a good man who is trying to do what is right. Unfortunately, in Scotland, honor is a weakness to be exploited by enemies and allies alike. One by one, Siward watches the young men around him die in the name of peace. Told through the eyes of those young soldiers (all students from CTE) writing letters home to their mothers, we watch the most hopeful of these child soldiers (poignantly played by Jack Hochschild) turn into a battle-scarred and mentally wounded man.
Written during the 2010 Afghan war, playwright David Greig uses the 1054 invasion of Scotland to highlight the problems of one culture trying to define “peace” for another. It’s a sometimes pedantic, sometimes funny, but always earnest allegory about the dangers of imperialism.
The three-hour-long production does sometimes drag due to a dense script and pacing issues, but it is absolutely worth attending. If nothing else, the play contains one of the best sets of antagonists since Saturninus and Tamara. Porter’s Gruach is a force to be reckoned with, and the chameleon-like ability Odsess-Rubin displays as he shifts into the hedonistically conniving King Malcolm is a master class in acting.
If Dunsinane is a measure of how youth theaters can benefit from collaboration with professional theaters, then this imperfect but well-cast show of veteran and youth actors shows promise for great things in the future.‘Dunsinane’ runs Tues–Sun through Oct. 16 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tues–Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $25.50-$65.50. Masks, proof of COVID vaccination and ID required. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.