As we enter, we walk through a narrow passageway the sides of which are strewn with cardboard signs bearing hand written demands, wrinkled, soiled newspapers, clothing, cans, bottles, and other items denoting a homeless encampment. On the open performance space proper are more of the same with tents- clotheslines strung between them, hung with various items, folding chairs, clothes, end tables as well as small barbecue grills. Samira Mariama is responsible for turning the Taube Atrium into a believable homeless encampment as set dresser and property manager.
This production of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth was commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Series through a generous contribution from the Hitz Foundation. It is a modern verse translation adapted by Migdalia Cruz. Why she and the director L. Peter Callender set the play in a homeless camp is quite a stretch from the usual adaptations of the so-called Scottish play, but stuck to the text. Still, I liked it. In his director’s note, Callender explains:
“I am inspired, by this work (June Jordens’ poem ‘I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies’) to create an evening of theater with nine talented, creative, brave, dedicated artists performing Migdalia Cruz’s lyrical, poetic reworking of Shakespeare’s MACBETH. I have always been interested in what would happen if a group of people, exiled by society, led by an ambitious, decorated American veteran who has become weary of the status quo— being denied, unwanted, ignored, unloved, who dreams of having the power to change his situation becomes a menace, thereby lifting his comrades from despair. No longer will they ‘walk politely on the pavements.’ (From Jordan’s poem.) What happens if that dream becomes real, the ‘impressive terror (ditto)’ emerges, and that reality destroys more that it fulfills? I am a citizen struggling with the crisis in our neighborhoods and cities,” Callender went on to say, “but even more present, I am an artist who, each time I drop a coin or a bill or a scrap of food in the hands or tin can of a homeless soul; or offer up a smile or just acknowledge another human being, my heart whispers: ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ This is real and terrifying! Our production is dedicated to those souls: the ‘Poor naked wretches, whosoe’er you are, that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm.’ (KING LEAR). We see you. We hear you. We care! It is our petty pace of sustainable action, more than your misfortune.”
Through this prism, this lens through which Callender sees this play, he succeeds.
Led by a strong cast in modern dress by Costumer Keri Fitch: hoodies, sweaters, leather jackets, jeans, short skirts over tights, long flowing dresses, and head scarves. Bay Area regular, the much credited Adrian Roberts plays the title character, Macbeth, with unrelenting yet static fierce dedication. He is a general, suffering with PTSD, in King Duncan’s army; and the wonderful Leontyne Mblele Mbong, who plays the dutiful yet ambitious Lady Macbeth with appropriate shading. They are joined by an equally strong supporting cast with Jamey Williams as Malcom, son of the king; and Champagne Hughes as Banquo, another general in the king’s army. Also Lijeth Krishnan as Macduff a nobleman of Scotland; Mohana Rajagopal as Lady Macduff; Oluchi Nwokcha, whose moves lent some humor the part of Ross, another nobleman; Sumi Sarendran seemed to be everywhere as her character, Seyton, an officer attending Macbeth, demands; as was Funmi Lola as Woman, who dashes in and out of scenes imparting information to Macbeth and his cronies, and, like Seyton, is everywhere at once.
Lighting Designer Kevin Myrick and Sound Designer Jeff Mockus are to be commended for their contribution, working together to add suspense, excitement, and atmosphere to the scenes and the characters’ scattered interaction. Mockus with Alexander Jones interjected modern pop and rap tunes into the mix, sparingly-to their credit. And Durand Garcia’s sword and knife fight choreography is as realistic as possible without drawing actual blood, leaving the bloody displays to Macbeth and his Lady. Stage Manager Elspeth Sweatman keeps things humming -and humming, it does!
The Weird Sisters: Fummi Lola, Mohana Rajagopal, and Oluchi Nwokcha are clichés. Surely Callender and Assistant Director Shawn J. West could have come up with something original without the sisters losing their weirdness and spooky premonitions?
Callender and Cruz had stripped down the text to a two-hour running time with no intermission, so take care of your business before the actors hit the boards.
Saturday, July 20 through Sunday, July 28 at the Taube Atrium. MacAllister and Van Ness Avenue, 4th Floor; San Francisco. Muni on Van Ness #47, 49; Underground Metro J,K,L,M, N, Van Ness & Market. Civic Center BART. Saturdays at 8PM, Sunday Matinees @ 3PM. Tickets $35.00 General Seating . www.african-americanshakes.org