In 1936 Orson Welles put on a production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" set in a fictional island reminiscent of Haiti. The play's underlying theme of witchcraft merged perfectly with the Haitian practice of voodoo, hence the production's name: "The Voodoo Macbeth."
Now the American Century Theater's artistic director, Jack Marshall, has decided to produce "Voodoo Macbeth" as the final show of its 2012-2013 season. But this "Voodoo Macbeth" is seen in a totally new setting far from the Caribbean. Director Kathleen Akerley creates a gun-toting, knife-wielding, all-male group, taking her actors back to Scotland, where Shakespeare first envisioned them, but imagining them living in 2033.
The result is a fascinating and curious combination, a cast of hard-core soldiers who are at the same time deadly serious Christians, a cutthroat band whose exhaustion after 11 years of fighting allows them to put personal gain above allegiance to a once meaningful social structure.
Akerley uses Shakespeare's basic plot and language, retaining Shakespeare's main characters: Duncan (Theodore Snead) is king of Scotland, Macbeth (Joseph Carlson) and Banquo (Frank Britton) are generals in his army. The biggest change is that Lady Macbeth becomes Gruoch (Matt Dewberry), but all her famous speeches are there, delivered in marvelously precise language by the manipulative Gruoch.
|If you go|
|» Where: American Century Theater, Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington|
|» When: Through April 13|
|» Info: $32 to $40; 703-998-4555; americancentury.org|
The cast of 13 is a well-integrated ensemble that creates very clearly a society that has what Akerley calls "less than full humanity." Carlson makes clear the struggle within Macbeth between his desire for power and his sense of right and wrong.
After Macbeth kills Banquo and Banquo turns up as a bloody ghost at a royal feast, Macbeth begins a spiral into madness that induces him to kill the family of Macduff (Christopher Dwyer) to protect his reign. Ryan Sellars is powerful as Malcolm, Duncan's son.
Will Hayes is truly menacing as Hecate. The one humorous role of the porter is handled well by Cyle Durkee, who manages to turn the production from tragedy to comedy just by his presence.
Akerley's set is a deathly, functional landscape: a castle at the back of the stage is a structure of cinder blocks with a wooden door. Along the back of the stage are straggly pine branches. It is an arid environment in which nothing good can flourish.
The costumes (by Akerley) are army camouflage shirts and pants and thick-soled boots. Gruoch alone is given a long brown cape worn in religious ceremonies.
Only a profound imagination could have dreamed up this blood-drenched, anti-exotic "Voodoo Macbeth." Akerley has such an imagination and this "Voodoo Macbeth" is undoubtedly as extraordinary and unpredictable in its own way as Welles' original is said to have been.