Conjuring spirits around an imaginary campfire, Makbet, relies on mood and music to set the stage for a stripped-down supernatural inflected rendering of Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy. In this unusual presentation called a “Gypsy ritual Macbeth,” the incantation-esque music, rich in percussion and sustained choral notes, feels entirely part of the fabric of the play. This improvisational, site-specific production achieves a great deal with just a few tools.
Staged in a shipping container inside the yard of a Bushwick recycling station, this vagabond troupe plies the audience with vodka and kielbasa before the show. Palms are read and singing along is encouraged during the pre-show festivities. They’ll even teach you the words to the Eastern European style songs (or go syllable-by-syllable).
There are six rules of engagement that Dzieci Theatre Company follow: “1) Actors must know the entire text. 2) Actors may not play the same role in successive sequences. 3) Roles can be taken or given, embraced or refused. 4) Three actors will play all the roles. 5) We begin and end in ceremony. 6) Nothing else is planned.” Since the actors may shift personas in an instant, each character is indicated by a piece of clothing or prop introduced at the start.
The action takes place largely by hand-held lanterns with only one major stage light (in blue). Thus it feels as if you’ve stumbled back in time upon a nighttime encampment, as musicians play and the rest of the troupe stomps and claps in rhythm. The metal shipping container becomes another instrument as their feet clomp and the walls are rapped and thumped by the performers. With the patter of rain on the container, a blanket given to me by the cast across my lap, and just a shot of vodka for warmth, the evocation of nighttime under the stars feels complete (though with the temperatures dropping I might suggest dressing for the outdoors even if you are “inside” the container).
As for the performance of the play itself, much of it happens in the shadows and dark of the space. This too feels apt for a story about what evil men and women are driven to by the dark-cloud of ambition in their souls. Because of the lo-fi nature of the production, the dimness also serves to leave much of what is not there to your imagination and not fixate on the “daggers” which are merely fingers (which in a brighter light might feel a little goofy). With no props, scenes of murders are accomplished through physical gestures and melodic screams and shrieks. With this mood over mannerism production that’s all quite fitting and you don’t miss any additional stagecraft.
Matt Mitler, Megan Bones, and Yvonne Brecht were the leading players the evening I saw the show. They swapped characters regardless of gender. The dramatic moments were more successful than the comedic (I found Brecht’s interpretation of the Porter very hard to understand). Mitler was weakest when taking on the role of Lady Macbeth, with some overly feminized gestures. But when all three became Lady Macbeth as she descends into madness, passing off line after line to each other, and wrapping all in her symbolic red scarf, the mechanism of this unusual staging approach worked to greatest effect. Similarly, when the lights came up on the banquet scene, the simple use of character props for the ghosts made clear the narrative intent and Mitler as Macbeth filled in the drama with his performance.
At 80 minutes, with its rich musical landscape and its unusual presentation, Makbet provides an unexpected twist on a classic and makes the audience feel part of the revelry.