The American Century Theater (TACT), under the Artistic Direction of Jack Marshall, pulls it all together with a stunning and audacious production of “that Scottish play” – William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of the murderous Macbeth. This Macbeth – Voodoo Macbeth – is even a deeper and more complex re-working by Director Kathleen Akerley – of the infamous and provocative adaptation by Orson Welles in 1936. Producing rigorous yet engaging productions of any work by Shakespeare is a challenge unto itself but, here, Director Akerley pushes the envelope by dropping what did not work as well and developing aspects of the play that today’s audience can be challenged by and relate to. As the press release so aptly states,” Akerley accepted the challenge. Her battalion of Christian marines is stationed in Scotland, circa 2,033 A.D., where, after eleven years of fighting, foreign culture has seeped into their day-to-day practices of faith and war.”
Working with a stellar all-male cast, this is a testosterone-driven and not-so-complimentary view of the murder that men do and the continual cycle of revenge and barbarism men engage in – indeed, we do not even have a conventional Lady Macbeth. Some subtle homoerotic touches are also interspersed into the mix. This Stage production of Macbeth is the theatrical counterpart of Roman Polanski’s cinematic cinematic Macbeth with it’s emphasis on gore, blood, and carnage. The unconventional yet totally convincing direction of Akerley (aided by Assistant Directors Tyler Herman and Annalisa Dias-Mandolay) includes the fusion of Roman Catholic elements, a stunning set piece where the song “Amazing Grace” is beautifully juxtaposed, and – of course – Haitian voodoo elements. The Sound Design by Frank Di Salvo, Jr. is particularly striking and consists of natural sounds and discordant,quirky, and unsettling chords befitting this material.
The ensemble effect is paramount here and, it is so pronounced, that the character of Macbeth himself is not given to any special grandstanding effects but, rather, seamlessly blends in. Joe Carlson’s interpretation of Macbeth is superb; Carlson glares with maniacal glee and moves like a lanky panther. The staging here gives appropriate space for all the cast to shine in their roles but there are some particular standouts. Ryan Sellars (Malcolm) brings a complexity to his portrayal and has a beautiful vocal delivery. Chris Dwyer (Macduff) is very effective in the scene where he grieves over the slaughter of his wife and children. Frank Britton (Banquo) delivers a very nuanced portrayal. James Miller (Ross) exudes a raw physicality that compels your attention. Cyle Durkee (Porter) creates a very unique and iconoclastic comic character.
The fight choreography by Casey Kaleba is phenomenal and almost frightening in its realistic effect. Kaleba can also be credited for the superb makeup and gore effects. The lighting design by Jason Aufdem-Brinke is appropriately dark and gloomy – but at times it was too dark for me to see some of the action on the stage.
Though this production is geared towards a very knowledgeable and literate audience and will have a very specialized and rarefied appeal, the message that is being delivered about war and carnage and the banality of evil resonates as a universal theme. The artistic vision of this play as conceived by TACT and Akerley is very applicable today. As these men prowl after one another, lurch in the shadows with bloody daggers and shoot point blank with guns – we feel as if we are witnessing the latest terrorist plot or a particularly insidious act of sabotage. This production makes us all complicit in the darker side of the human condition.
Kudos to The American Century Theater and Kathleen Akerley for offering theatergoers in this area such an uncompromising and bold theatrical adaptation. This is a Voodoo Macbeth with the courage of its convictions. If you are looking for work that challenges you to the maximum, do not miss this production!
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, plus one intermission.
Voodoo Macbeth plays through April 13, 2013, at Theater II in the Gunston Arts Center – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 998-4555, or purchase them online.