Writer: William Shakespeare
Adaptor: Dzieci Theatre
Director: Matt Mitler
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
As part of their 20th anniversary season, Dzieci Theatre brings their Roma-infused version of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play to a seemingly unlikely venue—a recycling center in Bushwick. Staged in a shipping container, Makbet is a bare-bones production with no recorded sound, minimal props, costumes and lighting, and a distinctly Eastern European flavor.
Upon arrival at Sure We Can, a sustainability hub on McKibbin Street, playgoers find the cast lounging around a trash can fire just outside an open shipping container, and are invited to pull up a milk crate and take a seat around the fire to join a sing-along. There’s vodka and a chunk of kielbasa for everyone to share. A cast member offers to tell fortunes. Once assembled, everyone files into the shipping container for the main event. Seats are made from milk crates, a rug, a cauldron containing a few costume pieces, and not much else. The company explains which costume pieces represent which characters: different hats for Macbeth and Banquo, a shawl for Lady Macbeth, glasses for Malcolm. Actors assume a role by donning the costume piece. All actors know the entire script and every night the three main performers (Matt Mitler, Megan Bones, Yvonne Brechbuhler) pass roles throughout the performance by swapping costume pieces. Because they all know every role, which performer plays which character in each scene varies from night to night. The chorus (Jesse Hathaway, Ryan Castalia, Felicity Doyle, Golan, Chris Cook) provides the score, with haunting choral passages and rhythmic pounding on the walls of the shipping container. At the end of the play, everyone is invited to gather around the fire for more vodka and Eastern European folk songs.
Makbet is less a play than it is an event. As with most immersive theatre, the audience is part of the production; it’s hard to just sit back and be a spectator. The gathering around the campfire before the show goes a long way in establishing the setting as an Eastern European Roma camp and in making the audience active participants. The performance itself is intimate and powerful. The actors’ trust in one another is palpable and the cast’s ritual of imbuing the costume pieces with the spirits of their characters highlights the play’s focus on ritual. The shipping container’s metal walls not only provide a percussive surface for the chorus to play, but they make staged violence in an improvised work much more convincing. Lighting is generally dim—actors wield flashlights and there’s a single blue light in the far corner of the container. This only further establishes the dark tone of the play.
To be sure, Makbet’s unconventional venue carries some drawbacks. The milk crate seating, while an excellent design choice, is far more comfortable if one’s legs are covered. The shipping container is, of course, not air-conditioned and can get a little stuffy. While the performance is riveting, audiences who’ve had little exposure to Macbeth may find the swapping of roles confusing. None of these things should dissuade audiences from seeing Makbet, though. Dzieci’s staging of Shakespeare’s play is a truly unique and rewarding venture for audiences who are ready to respond to a cast member passing them a sausage during a campfire sing-along. Catch it while you can.
Runs until 8 October 2017 | Image: Troy Hahn