Between college requirements and subsequent years as a reporter, I’ve enjoyed the masterful stories penned by the Bard himself dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
But seeing “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s poignant tale of one couple’s unquenchable hunger for personal advancement that even includes murder in their bailiwick of dastardly deeds, comes alive with surprisingly new twists as portrayed by a stellar cast with director Liesl Tommy at the helm.
Shakespeare Theatre Company, one of the District’s best, has done it again — illustrating why they remain one of the best in onstage productions, both in the greater Washington area and in the U.S.
Imagine a newly-formed arsenal of rock & roll music, 21st century tablets and cellphones utilized for communication, costumes more apropos for African pageantry and South American guerillas — even the dark and mysterious “three Witches” recast to resemble characters more fitting for the blockbuster movie classic “The Matrix” than medieval Scottish warriors, and you get a sense of what’s in store for the audience as they witness this updated presentation of “Macbeth.”
Gone are the traditional limitations once forced upon the cast — as women and people of color take on roles formerly granted based on the directives of the original playwright, Shakespeare.
Jesse J. Perez takes on the role of the title character, Macbeth, and is nothing short of “phenomenal.”
By his side as his wife, veteran Black actress and writer Nikkole Salter employs her wiles and wizardry in tackling the role of Lady Macbeth, superbly showcasing her carefully-crafted, onstage abilities.
She says it’s the kind of role that she’s glad has finally outlived centuries of manmade social constructs.
“Many times, roles once coveted, elevated, idolized and held captive by race like those in ‘Macbeth’ aren’t all that helpful, especially when today’s actors are trying to tell a story as good as this,” said the L.A.-born OBIE-winning actress. “I’m more upset that Blacks have had to be permitted to participate in the telling of human stories and hope that my being part of this production serves as a step forward in the ongoing movement for people of all backgrounds to claim their place in the public sphere.”
Salter, who received her BFA in theatre from Howard University and MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program, said she began spreading her wings as both an actress and storyteller after she realized, early in her career, that the kinds of dramatic stories she wanted to do or be a part of, were only rarely coming her way.
It’s difficult to imagine how she keeps her life in order, as she’s currently working on the screen adaptation of Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” and recently completely a starring role in the West Coast premiere of Oscar-winner Tarell McCraney’s latest play, “Head of Passes,” before agreeing to sink her teeth into the role of Lady Macbeth. But it’s just par for the course for this gifted thespian.
As she first appears in this Shakespearean classic, she’s adorned in jeans, communicating with her husband on a tablet — part of the ingenuity of Tommy and the company’s artistic director, Michael Kahn.
“I believe that storytelling is a conscious evolution of reality that allows one to bring awareness to how we’re living,” she said. “Being part of the Shakespearean legacy was not part of my personal goals, but I’ll be damned if I will let anyone say I cannot do it when and if I want to. And this cast, it’s simply amazing. Our director has allowed each of us the opportunity to give our complete selves in a space where we’re all equally invested and it feels wonderful.”
“Macbeth” continues through May 28 and is well worth the price of admission. For tickets or information, go to www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.