In 1935, the Federal Theatre Project, a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative for supporting the arts when private funding was crippled by the Depression, established the Negro Theatre Project in New York. VOODOO MACBETH is a common nickname for The Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 New York production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. This production featured an all black cast and was originally directed by a 20 year old Orson Welles. In a creative move, Welles adapted the setting to a Caribbean location, that most people have associated with Haiti. Within the new location, that allowed witchcraft to be replaced by a more connectable Voodoo magic. This original production electrified Harlem, and played to packed houses.
Ensemble Theatre in collaboration with The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is presenting that version of VOODOO MACBETH. The production is directed by Celeste Cosentino and Tyson Douglas Rand. The physical setting designed by Ian Hinz, provides a relatively open space with three projection screens that act as location or suggested backdrops to frame the action. So the power of the production is really left to the actors to create the magic, and the directors to guide the demanding performances that are essential to the Bard.
The matinee performance seemed to lack the overall energy and drive that is needed to captivate the audience. Of course, that didn’t stop one audience member from taking 10 flash pictures in the middle of the show, which was handled appropriately by the staff. However, within the play there were those that did rise to the occasion, or achieve their moments of complete connection to the material. This production is clearly led by Carly Germany* as Lady Macbeth. Here is an actress that fires on all cylinders every time she appears. With an expressive face, physicality and confidence, she creates a compelling performance. A captivating Kyle Carthens as Macduff finds his moments as his anger is tested. Leonard Goff is expressive as Duncan. Stephen Hood nails it as the Porter. Hood is a hot mess of alcohol laced comedic delight. Greg White reminds me of Sidney Poitier, by projecting all class and style. “They call me Mr. Banquo”.
It felt like Jimmie Woody as Macbeth, needed to dive deeper into his character to sustain the energy and drive. There were moments of clarity and power, but not the overall punch that was needed. The witches (Chinetha Hall, Emily Terry, and Tina Tompkins) were effective, and certainly moved together with sensuous purpose and mischief. And as one of the murderers, remind me never to piss off Calvin Willis Jr.
The Set Design and Projections didn’t seem electric enough. One major distraction is the scene at the water’s edge, where the film was on a loop and would jerk and replay itself during the scene. That was very distracting. The Costume Design (Angelina Herin) and Lighting Design (Andrew Eckert) were fine. Stage Manager Julia Perez called a good show, except for the beginning of Act Two, where the timing of music going off and the action starting seemed off, leaving some dead air.
I love when a theatre company takes risks and pushes to break new ground. Congrats to both producing parties for remounting such an original production, that has such a powerful history and purpose.
*Member of Actor’s Equity Association
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$12-$22 General Admission
2843 Washington Blvd
Cleveland, OH 44118