Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to First Stage shall come against him!

I have always been intrigued by MacBeth and I have often touted it as my favorite Shakespearean tragedy. So it was a delight to experience a new telling of the traditional story through the energies of the First Stage Young Company. For more information on First Stage and the Young Company, see the links at the end of this response.

Now, first of all, don’t think that this a condensed version of MacBeth. The Young Company gives us a complete telling that runs well over two hours (plus an intermission) and all of the blood and gore and sword fights and speeches are for the most part intact. And like a modern Shakespeare company, First Stage relies on simple costuming, a lean modern stage, but most of all the resilience of the language…all in a theater in the round configuration! Despite their seeming youth, the company gives us an exciting and well told MacBeth!

Liam Jeninga and Angel Rivera in MACBETH. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul

I was thrilled by the mastery of the language here and the enthusiasm and energy exhibited by the entire cast. This is a daunting play for adults…there’s a lot of difficult dialogue to learn here and the Young Company nailed it. Of course the stand out is Liam Jeninga who portrays the title character. But Lady MacBeth, as depicted by Elisheva Scheuer, is certainly the matching paramour and villain!

: Elisheva Scheuer and Liam Jeninga in MACBETH. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul

It was amazing that we have a full cast for such an epic play. Some of my favorites were Angel Rivera as MacDuff, Zachary Nowacek as Duncan, and Aderyn Grace as Banquo. And no, I am not forgetting the Three Witches (they would cause me to boil boil and trouble if I did): Jonathan Edwards, Sabrina Borg, and Maya Thomure!

Jonathan Edwards in MACBETH. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Director Marcella Kearns and Director of Young Company Matt Daniels have a lot to be proud of here…this is a masterful work all around!

First Stage’s MacBeth runs through April 3, 2022 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center but dates and times are limited.

This is a presentation that adults will enjoy. As I said earlier not much has been toned down; there is swordplay and stage blood and screaming and adult content…so it may not be suitable for youngsters. The theater in the round provides essentially stage side seating for everyone attending so you won’t miss any of the action!

Extra reading opportunities:

A link to order tickets and get more information.

An electronic PlayBill with clicks to find out more about the cast and company and play!

About the Young Company.

COVID safety policy is here.

Ready For More American Players Theatre? Two Additional Offerings For Fall!

Beyond their original summer season: The American Players Theatre Announces Its Live Summer Season: The Road Back, there are two additional fall plays to enjoy.

At the outdoor Hill Theatre, you can see Oedipus by Sophocles performed from an adaptation by director David Daniel. Oedipus will run from September 17 – October 9.

For the first time in decades, we welcome to our Hill one of the great Greeks – an infamous murder mystery that has riveted audiences around the world and across time. But Oedipus is not a story that can be defined by its final act, shocking though that act might be. Poetic and profound, it is in many ways the story of us; about how the people we love carry us from bad times to good, and sometimes back again. And at its heart, an extraordinary hero – flawed like we all are flawed, yet brave enough to do what he must to protect his community. Even if it means his undoing. It’s a rare gift to see the Greeks outside under the stars, as they were meant to be seen. Rarer still to witness one that was conjured just for this place; built from decades of the energy that flows from this community. From you, our audience. We are because you are.

And at the indoor Touchstone Theatre, APT will be presenting their second Shakespeare play of the season, The Taming of the Shrew! Taming will run October 14 – November 14 and is directed and has been adapted to a five actor presentation by Shana Cooper.

Ah, the tale of Kate and Petruchio, and how each cracked the code to the other’s ferociously defended heart. It’s a Shakespearean rabble-rouser, held up as the ultimate battle of the sexes. But look closer, and you’ll discover a lively satire about how society tries to bend this couple into shapes they’re simply not built for. Cheer them on as they shatter everyone’s absurd expectations. After all, their dramatic (and often uproarious) journey toward love isn’t just entertaining. It’s revolutionary. A wild and theatrical adaptation featuring the famously combative couple, with three other incredible actors playing Bianca to Baptista, and every ridiculous role in between.

and as always, to see and read more about the American Players Theatre, CLICK HERE!

World Premiere of “An Improbable Fiction” Opens American Players Theatre LIVE Performances In Their Hill Theater.

This amazing intersection of all things Shakespeare as written by James DeVita, and directed by Tim Ocel, brings smiles and nods to every theater nerd in the audience…even those with only a passing fancy in the Bard. But before you think that Mr. DeVita leaves us stranded in Elizabethan London, he has brought much to bear in the dialogue that brings us to contemporary culture and society…a mirror that spans centuries. To open, here are the footnotes from the video presentation that I watched since I wasn’t able to attend in person in Spring Green:

This world-premiere play is, among many other wonderful things, a glorious gift to lit-nerd wish fulfillment, providing a heartfelt and hilarious answer to the question “what would it be like to sit out the plague at a bar with your five favorite Shakespearean characters?” (We know! We’ve thought about it too!) Like the very best taverns, this story is buoyed by community, and ringing with good cheer; a tale that feels custom-made for APT. Because it was.

Featuring: Tracy Michelle Arnold (Cleopatra), Sarah Day (Mistress Nell Quickly), Chiké Johnson, (Othello), Brian Mani (Sir John Falstaff), Melisa Pereyra (Juliet) & Ronald Román-Meléndez (The Messenger).

So where should I start? Well, let’s riff off the conceit of the play and contemporary humor. Othello, Cleopatra, and Juliet walked into a bar where all the world’s a stage and Sir John Falstaff is the sun. So yes, Falstaff holds sway over this grand stage. He draws all of the characters in and draws all of the characters out. Mr. DeVita has done a marvelous job in keeping Falstaff true to his Shakespearean persona while also bringing us a new and more empathetic character. And for me, Brian Mani, after this tour de force performance, will forever own the role! Bravo!!

screen capture by Ed Heinzelman of Brian Mani as Sir John Falstaff

But while Falstaff is the sun, The Messenger is the glue that holds the story line in place. Although these characters are all from far far different plays, they are all a part of the Shakespearean universe and not only seem to know each other but each others backstories as well. But the one player that they do have in common is here in The Improbable Fiction. The Messenger shows up throughout the canon as one nameless bit player or another and is familiar to each of the others at the face recognition level. His appearance always draws a puzzled look and a shaken head of recognition when the connection is finally made. And Ronald Román-Meléndez brings exactly that right balance of exposition to the play while maintaining the character’s subordinate place in the action…until he doesn’t and then the action pivots. Not a simple thing…but critically important to the fiber of this play. As you can see from this question directed to him and his reply:

Why so quiet lad?

When my cue comes I will answer!

And yes I mentioned that this play is also of our time…and the characters have something to say about the pandemic, misogyny, and racism. I am quoting from the play but in a very poor paraphrase because I was note taking while watching and now can’t always read my own handwriting.

Fallstaff on the pandemic: “It’s not the damn plague will kill me, it’s the solitude.”

or “Sad hours seem long.”

Othello on racism: ” No color could they see were there battles I could win. Then I was I the noble Moor. Loved for only what I can do. Yet I could bear this, I’ve done all my life.”

Juliet on misogyny: “These men…ever and anon endeavoring to fashion our lives unto their desires.”

My apologies in advance to James DeVita for my errors…

Chiké Johnson & Tracy Michelle Arnold, An Improbable Fiction, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

But despite the particulars that apply to our contemporary era, this play will play and be understood and appreciated for as long as Shakespeare is presented on stage…and it should become part of the repertoire of any and every Shakespearean theater company. It will be much appreciated.

How comes it you know all that?

I am the messenger!

Sarah Day, Brian Mani, Melisa Pereyra, Chiké Johnson & Tracy Michelle Arnold, An Improbable Fiction, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And now a few bit off the track remarks. This world premiere opened the 2021 Hill Theatre season of live performance. But it was originally offered by APT as a streamed reading in July 2020 and also featured Brian Mani as Falstaff and Sarah Day as Miss Quickly. It was mesmerizing then but the comparison to this live on stage performance is of course night and day and I can’t wait to get back into the theater. (And I am sore amazed that I did not write a response at the time or I would have linked to it here.) But I do think there is a future where theater and Zoom will co-mingle and continue to entertain us but that’s for another post.

Ronald Román-Meléndez, Sarah Day, Melisa Pereyra & Chiké Johnson, An Improbable Fiction, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.