Something culturally relevant and revolutionary is taking place at the Shakespeare Theater Company with their “New Directors for the Classics” series. The current production of MACBETH is the best example of selecting a rising non-traditional star to re-tell an ancient classic in modern terms.
Shakespeare’s tragic tale of palace intrigue and murder takes on a whole new look and Afro-centric vibe thanks to the direction of South African visionary Liesl Tommy.
“I want this Macbeth to have a sense of what’s happening in the real world. I’m interested in this show being as immediate as possible”, said Director Tommy. And she delivers by transporting the tale of a Scottish castle to a developing Third World country dominated by a mad oligarch and his ambitious childless wife.
Get ready for an unexpected bloodbath of guerilla warfare campaigns, as the show starts with a noisy BANG of a regiment of soldiers with an arsenal of AK-47 pyrotechnics. The director then deftly transitions Macbeth’s rise to power to a majestic scene of African Royal splendor and pageantry thanks to the ambitious vision of Lady Macbeth as a Jaguar limousine transports the conquering King and his Queen to their new throne.
The director’s South African roots as a child of Apartheid come into full fruition as she reinterprets the Witches prophesy of Macbeth’s rise to power and his fellow general Banquo’s destiny to sire a line of kings. She sees them as diabolical white colonial sorcerers with HI TECH powers that use Instagram posting of murdered victims to confirm their kills and PowerPoint projections to advance their ruthless exploitation of political chaos.
For those of you who may have missed the Shakespeare seminar while you were struggling to get your law degree, you should broaden your theatrical horizons and check out the current run of MACBETH. Leave your English Lit stereotypes of dark dungeons and hard-to-hear British accents at the doors and let your imagination run free as you enter the fabulous confines of Sidney Harmon Hall, which transforms its expansive stage into HI TECH battlefield turned banquet hall.
Because you may not recognize the play from the contemporary collage of images, you WILL remember and recognize the stunning presence of two Howard University BFAs, Nikkole Salter who absolutely slays the role of the mad and demented Lady Macbeth, and Petronia Paley as the murdered rival Duncan.
Salter and Jesse Perez as Macbeth are the face of this daring and audacious production, as she regales in her African head dresses and flowing gowns and he in his Cesar Chavez paramilitary garb that takes you around the Horn of Africa on his way to the battlefields of Scotland.
The ‘Game of Thrones’ plot quickly thickens after Macbeth’s triumphant rise to power turns dark and murderous after he vanquishes his rival Banquo played with riveting power by McKinley Belcher with surgical brutality as Lady Macbeth serves as the cleanup nurse. The king and queen spiral into a fit of madness capped by Banquo’s haunting return to a state banquet that sets the stage for their ultimate equally bloody demise.
But what will blow your mind is the diversity of the cast that includes 20 men and women of color of the total cast of over 25, including breakout performances from Washingtonians JaBen Early, last scene in Roundhouse Theater’s ‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ and Anu Yadav who broke onto the DC scene 10 years ago with her one woman HIP HOP production of life in public housing with ‘CAPERS’.
Fellow Wholly Mammoth company member Naomi Jacobson is all business as the ring leader of the witches dressed in androgynous corporate black suits and a shock of blond hair as the only female witch among the king whisperers.
Add to that the amazingly agile work of ensemble cast members and Morehouse Men Brett Johnson, who joins fellow HBCU alum JaBen Early on stage and at the After Party in Scottish kilts, and you will marvel at the success of the Shakespeare Theater Company’s commitment and delivery of diversity and upward career mobility of homegrown talent on stage as no other arts community short of New York City can.
So save yourself a trip to NYC and boogie on down to Sidney Harmen Hall and catch MACBETH during their five week run before Memorial Day and Text “STCTeach’ to 71777 and help the theater support educational programs that expose youth to the arts.
© 2017 Malcolm Lewis Barnes