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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Voodoo Macbeth


Matt Dewberry and Joe Carlson
In its effort to bring neglected 20th-century American plays back into the spotlight, American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, sometimes takes a step forward into the bizarre. One case in point is the company's current resuscitation of Orson Welles' adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth: sometimes engrossing, often puzzling.

In 1936, Welles was 20 years old and bursting with both talent and ambition. He edited the Shakespeare text—also moving the action from medieval Scotland to Haiti—and presented what came to be known as Voodoo Macbeth in Harlem with an African-American cast under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project. While the nontraditional casting and rethinking of Shakespeare shocked and thrilled audiences of the time, these approaches have become so commonplace that director Kathleen Akerley looked elsewhere for inspiration.

The result is neither here nor there. The director's notes set the production in a futuristic Scotland under occupation by U.S. soldiers. They take shelter in a ruined church and seem to have reverted to old Catholic practices (they pray in Latin), but they also make pronouncements about the impending apocalypse and engage in possibly pagan rituals (the witches prophesy after consuming drugs; most of the characters cut themselves and draw blood). Adding to the ancient feeling is the fact that Akerley's cast consists of 13 men and no women: Gruoch (Matt Dewberry) represents Lady Macbeth, but it's never made clear whether the character portrayed is male or female.

In this telling, Macbeth (Joseph Carlson) is a valiant commander, but he and Gruoch are more pawns of fate than people forcing their own destiny. The character who pulls the strings is Hecate (William Hayes), a minor presence in the original play but here the malevolent force that motivates the witches.

The company members work better as an ensemble than in individual performances. While Carlson's performance is fine, Frank Britton stands out as an impassioned (and eventually blood-covered) Banquo.

American Century Theater
Voodoo Macbeth
March 22nd - April 13th
Adapted by Orson Welles from William Shakespeare's play
Banquo; Frank Britton
Macbeth: Joseph Carlson
Lennox: Keegan Cassady
Siward: Evan Crump
Gruoch: Matt Dewberry
Porter: Cyle Durkee
Macduff: Christopher Dwyer
Fleance: James Finley
Mondor: Nick Hagy
Hecate: William Hayes
Ross: James Miller
Malcolm: Ryan Sellers
Duncan: Theodore M. Snead
Directed by Kathleen Akerley
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org


Photo: Johannes Markus


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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