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Shogun Macbeth

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Rosanne Ma and Kaipo Schwab.
Photo by Corky Lee.

John R. Briggs' adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Shogun Macbeth, is a transmutation of the original material to Japan that retains the integrity of the Bard's work while applying Japanese customs, folklore, spirituality, martial arts and history. Presented by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, this production clearly has hard workers on its side, but the relocation of the story to 12th century Japan (Kamakura Period) is overwrought and inconsistent.

With Charlie Corcoran's strong, prideful set and Carol A. Pelletier's beautiful, period costumes, the opening sequences of Shogun Macbeth show great promise. Samurai line up and execute Michael G. Chin's simple fight choreography with intensity and determination. Unfortunately, the show never reaches its potential despite going down with a fight.

Part of the blows come from the three Yojos (Emi F. Jones, Shigeko Suga and Claro Austria), or witches, that guide Macbeth (Kaipo Schwab) along his power-seeking and greed-riddled path. With striking, individual red, white and black wigs, powdered-white faces, nimble movement by Sachiyo Ito and shrill, albeit annoying voices, the Yojos are an entertaining, comical part of the production even if they sometimes overstay their welcome. They also keep the production Macbeth-like when it occasionally starts to either metamorphose into something else or get boring.

The rest of the blows come from some of the actors. As Banquo, Ariel Estrada makes an impression with a solid, exciting performance that makes his bound for the throne companion, Macbeth, look limp. Too bad Estrada is almost the only one unscathed by Ernest Abuba's shoddy direction. Abuba's direction turns Rosanne Ma's performance as Fujin Macbeth (Lady Macbeth) into a horror segment when her "out spot, out!" speech looks like it's delivered by the creepy Samara character in The Ring.

Another glaring issue is the text. Although much of Shakespeare's script remains in the same archaic language, it doesn't mesh well with everything else because everything else is customized for Japan. Thee and thou are out of place with hara-kiri and sake. Revamping the language to fit the circumstances could have made the dialogue sound more natural.

More issues stem from the Japanese take on the material. Because the background and history have been altered and are heavily referenced in the dialogue, a glossary and list of names are printed in the playbill to assist the audience. However, since this is already an adaptation that the audience must navigate with stumbling blocks like heavy, inconsistent accents and concepts that are radically different, the audience is already working overtime to comprehend. It's asking too much of them to decipher the adaptation with a decoder ring, too.

Shogun Macbeth is an ambitious effort, but the direction, some of the performances, and the inconsistencies ultimately ruin it. It may be a non-traditional view of Shakespeare, but it's a murky one, too.

Shogun Macbeth
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street between 9th & 10 Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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