Off Broadway

Makbet: Bring a Cushion, And Get Ready For Some Shakespearian Role Play.

Makbet: Bring a Cushion, And Get Ready For Some Shakespearian Role Play.
MAKBET

The Players of MAKBET.

Better brush up on your Shakespeare if you plan on taking in this very fun and inventive staging of MAKBET being produced by Dzieci Theatre in Bushwick. The show takes place in a closed door storage container at the Sure We Can non-profit recycling center, community space, and sustainability hub in Williamsburg (site supervisor: Rene DelCarmen; Executive Director: Augustina Besada). I kid you not.  It’s a bit tight and hot inside the long metal rectangular box, with rows of milk crates for chairs where this Gypsy-infused take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth will materialize out of nothing more than a few hats, scarves, and a pair of reading glasses. An ensemble of pretty incredible actors take turns spontaneously trading off parts at the drop of a hat, quite literally. As adapted, directed, and designed by Matt Mitler (New Victory Theater’s Sofrito), the ageless tale of greed, murder, omens, and magical incantations springs up and captivates us all, more or less.

MAKBET

Photo by S. Ross

There are six rules of engagement, which are read off as we get comfortable on our milk crate seats inside the long metal storage container. It’s not going to be the most comfortable 100 minutes of theatre, so be prepared. You might want to consider bringing a cushion to sit on (my ass and back got plenty sore by the end), and make sure you go to the bathroom at any of the bars or restaurants close by before arriving (I’m not sure they have any facilities on premises).  So here are the rules, and through them, you’ll get a good idea of the eclectic performance that is being presented.  

1/ Actors must know the entire text. 2/ Actors may not play the same role in successive sequences 3/ Roles can be taken or given, embraced or refused. 4/ Three actors alone will play the principle roles 5/ We begin and End in ceremony 6/ Nothing else is planned. 

The three players of all parts swap hats, glasses, scarves, and a coat, each representing different specific characters (costumes: Karen Hatt) within this pared down Macbeth.  Megan Bones, Yvonne Brechbuhler, and Matt Mitler seamlessly go in and out of character (and odd accents sometimes) switching at a moments notice from one role to another, regardless of gender or age. It is quite the achievement as it truly does appear to not be planned in advance. The casting off of a role almost, at moments, feel like a game between these actors, as if they are trying to stump one another into messing up a line here or there. Not that anyone would notice.  I know this play like the back of my hand as it is one of my favorites, but this edited down version moves so quickly through the story that a line lost here and there would probably go unnoticed.  Whether that happened or not the night that I saw it, it doesn’t take away the astonishing ability the three have to stay focused and attuned to the text and each other.  

The only problem that arises from this tricky game of role playing is that at points the swapping of hats muddles and confuses the movement of the story.  It would be difficult to enter this space to see this telling of Macbeth without a solid knowledge of the true Shakespearian play. At times the actions, especially the loud screams and shrieks that accompany moments of violence make it almost impossible to hear the lines being said, and for a virgin to Macbeth, I can only imagine how confusing this story could become. It’s also such an interesting environment to stage such a play, and generally the action, lighting, and maneuvering is chaotic but inventive.  The spontaneity of role play probably is to blame for the lack of a smoother blocking style, and even though the space could be better or more grandly used, the feistiness of the ensemble makes the cacophony palpable.

Ultimately, the story is told simply and somewhat on a dizzying swirl of similar levels.  Subtlety is not a word I would use for any of the scenes and performances, as rambunctiousness is the main go-to volume.  I was hoping for more levels and shades as we move through this complex story, especially with moments like the death of Lady Macbeth.  It was handled as expected with loud wailing and deafening cries, which felt far too similar to other moments of pain or death. The fight scenes were equally loud, and oddly choreographed with what looks like a lot of karate chops.  But in the end, the story unfolds dramatically, and we are engrossed (for the most part) in the telling of it.  

Sitting around the space, are the other members of this ‘Old Country’ gypsy chorus. They are the same ones who greeted us as we arrived with exuberant songs, libations, and divinations before leading us into the box. Ryan Castalia, Felicity Doyle Golan, Jesse Hathaway, and Chris Cook, all help create mood with sound and song that have the stereotypical flavor of old Russian transients.  They hum and play musical drums that magically create quite the atmospheric soundtrack during the play, sometimes even using the metal walls quite expertly like a percussion instrument. Even though too much space is given to the singing of what sounds like gypsy folk songs (music supervisor: Ryan Castalia) in-between scenes, the choral direction by Hathaway is surprisingly effective.  Less might be more here, although I find it almost comical that I’m thinking the 100 minute telling of Macbeth could be done tighter and smoother.

This production is not for the comfort seeking theatre goer by any means.  If you complain about the level of physical ease in a typical small theatre seat, or the long lines at the not-so-well equipped Broadway house, than you might want to pass on this stuffy and claustrophobic environmental theatrical experience. But for the adventurous soul, who loves the experimental aspect that Shakespeare plays can sometime gift us with, than by all means, take the ‘L’ train out to Brooklyn, grab a bite, a drink, and a bathroom visit along Bushwick Ave, and find yourself drawn into an ritualistic and riotous production of the Scottish Play. 

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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