Openly defying superstition, CNY Playhouse opened “Macbeth” on Friday the 13th!
This compelling production dares to tweak Shakespeare by turning the Scottish Play into a 1930s Mafia war, complete with tommy guns and trench coats, wide-shouldered evening gowns, fedoras and art-deco ties. One of Shakespeare’s most tragic and violent works, this “Macbeth” boasts excellent acting, a hint of black magic and an absolutely thrilling fight scene.
Director Dan Rowlands and producers Jay Burris and Kasey Mchale dodged the curse by assembling a top-notch cast capable of rendering the Bard’s notoriously fulsome prose in a tone and tempo that still speaks to modern audiences.
Rowlands’ innovations begin at the beginning as he presents the play’s infamous Three Weird Sisters as a trio of Roman-Catholic nuns, conjuring not on a “blasted heath” but quietly lighting a rack of holy candles.
A radiant Katie Gibson sporting a Rita Hayworth hairstyle nearly steals the show as Lady Macbeth — the scheming gangster’s moll whose ambitions initiate waves of violence before culminating in insanity. No wonder Gibson is so good. The actress — who Rowlands considers the best Shakespearian performer with whom he has ever worked — has played major roles in “Hamlet,” “King Lear” and “Twelfth Night.”
In the title role of Macbeth, the red-blooded, chest-thumping Nathan Faudree well complements Gibson’s maddening nag. Faudree’s Macbeth is a man of many faces, among them a back-slapping goodfellow, a lusty lover and a crazed killer. With a facile command of the dialogue, Faudree makes each of the king’s personas live and breathe.
Like Gibson, Faudree has honed his Shakespearean talent in shows such as “Measure for Measure,” “Antonio & Cleopatra” and “Hamlet.”
As Nino Rota’s “Godfather” theme sets the scene, the incumbent family don, Duncan, masterfully portrayed by William Edward White, makes a memorable Act 1 entrance into the courtyard of the Abbey of St. Leoluca, the patron saint of the Sicilian town of Corleone. White also designed the functional set anchored by an imposing downstage wooden doorway offset by a tri-bulbed street lamp. White’s Duncan and his shotgun-armed henchmen often speak in a Flatbush accent, completing the post-modern mobster stereotype.
The play’s massive cast of 22 features several outstanding performers who strongly support the leads. A few of the most notable are a red-bearded Jeremiah Thompson as Banquo, Basil Allen as Duncan’s son, Malcolm, Lynn King as the ill-fated Lady Macduff, and Sean Pratt as Macduff’s cousin, Ross, a man caught in the middle.
The ever-reliable Simon Moody appears as Seyton, Macbeth’s right-hand-man, and James Uva goes over the top as Macduff, the vengeance-seeking Macbeth enemy who finally brings the tyrant down. The unimaginably brutal and realistic fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff was meticulously choreographed by Derek Potocki, who also portrays a sociopathic hit man.
With its impressive cast, passable production values and spectacular Act 2 action, this “Macbeth” will please Shakespeare scholars as well as neophytes. Like a hell-broth, it boils and bubbles.
“Macbeth” runs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 19, 20 and 21, at CNY Playhouse located near the Macy’s entrance at DeWitt’s ShoppingTown Mall. Tickets cost $17 on Thursday and $20 on Friday and Saturday. Call 885-8960 or go to cnyplayhouse.com for more details.