American Century Theater is ready to open its next show, and what audiences will see, beginning tonight, is a closely guarded secret. Jack Marshall is betting it will be as shocking and innovative as its original production staged by Orson Welles in 1936.
By all existing accounts, what we now call Voodoo Macbeth rocked New York’s theatre world. On opening night, the 1,223 seat theatre was completely sold out. Thousands gathered outside, blocking traffic for over an hour. At curtain rise, audiences gasped. By evening’s end, they gave a 15 minute standing ovation.
Here’s how, according to Wendy Smith, The New York Times reported it the next morning:
“The curtain, announced for 8:45, didn’t rise until 9:30. When it finally did, on a jungle scene complete with witches and voodoo drums, the frenzied mood outside the theater was matched by that within.
“Excitment…fairly rocked the Lafayette Theatre,” The New York Times commented the next morning. The spectators were enthusiastic and noisy; they vocally encouraged Macbeth’s soliloquies and clapped vigorously when the second act opened with more than half of the 100-plus cast massed onstage for his coronation ball, a sea of colorful costumes swaying to the strains of Joseph Lanner waltzes.
After the curtain fell on the final grim tableau of the witches holding Macbeth’s severed head aloft as Hecate intoned ominously, “The charm’s wound up!” cheers and applause filled the auditorium for 15 minutes. Not bad for a show directed by an actor barely out of his teens with a cast that was 95 percent amateur, and a scenery and costume budget of $2,000.”
Funded, we might add, by the W.P.A.’s Federal Theater Project.
No wonder that Jack Marshall has had Voodoo Macbeth in his sight for years. However, he had no intention of re-creating the audacious Orson Welles production. Instead, he asked himself, “How would Welles stage it today?”After all, changing the time and place of a Shakespeare play (Welles set it in a jungle in Haiti) is common now. As is having an all black cast.
March 22 – April 13, 2013
Gunston Arts Center – Theatre II
2700 S. Lang Street
Tickets: $35 – $40
PWYC Thurs, Mar 21 and Wed, Mar 27
Thursdays thru Sundays
Using the script, he set out to produce a version which would be as frightening and as new as the original – one which would keep the audience on the edge of their seats, unable to guess what was coming next. For that, he needed a director who could get inside the head of Orson Welles. And he found it in Kathleen Akerley, a DC playwright, director, actress and Artistic Director of Longacre Lea, whom he describes as “fearless.”
We can tell you very little about what will greet audiences at Gunston Theatre II when the show opens for previews March 20th.
Except – it will take place among a battalion of Christian marines stationed in Scotland in 2033. And that the all-male cast will be led by Joseph Carlson as Macbeth, aided by Frank Britton as Banquo, Matt Dewberry as Lady Macbeth, Will Hayes as Hecate, supported by a host of others. “Plenty of blood”, Marshall promised in the podcast, though he had no idea how much, “and swordplay.”