2015-03-12 / Living

Shakespeare descending upon Genesee County

By Michael Selecky
810-452-2632 • mselecky@mihomepaper.com

Gabriel Lawrence as Macbeth and Angela Janas as Lady Macbeth perform along side Joshua David Robinson, Grant Fletcher Prewitt and Suzy Kohane. 
Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp Gabriel Lawrence as Macbeth and Angela Janas as Lady Macbeth perform along side Joshua David Robinson, Grant Fletcher Prewitt and Suzy Kohane. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp FLINT — Amidst a 2014- 15 season that most recently featured the musicals Anything Goes and Sister Act, The Whiting Presents William Shakespeare’s Macbeth tomorrow at 7 p.m. This particular production is the work of the Tony Award-winning Acting Company, a New York based group whose alumni include Kevin Kline (Wild, Wild West, A Fish Called Wanda) and Rainn Wilson (The Office, Juno).

“I think what sets this production apart is we‘ve tried to highlight that this is a tragedy. Sounds silly, but often this production becomes a simple morality tale where a bad man does terrible things and is eventually punished for them,” said Director Devin Brain. “But Shakespeare’s play is more complicated than that. It’s exploration of the idea that evil lives in all of us, and the choice to enact it scars both the perpetrator and the world.”

Dating back to its publication in 1623 after being written in 1606, Macbeth is the tale of a military General who has just defeated an invading army when he meets three witches who tell him that his destiny is to become the King of Scotland. Fueled by the urgings of his wife, Macbeth murders the highly revered King Duncan, which sends him on a downward spiral filled with an ever-escalating series of questionable actions.

“We live in a world where evil is a reality and yet all too often we label it as inhuman. Despite all of the trappings of civilization and morality, humanity is still killing each other for reasons both political and personal. That urge is part of primal nature,” Brain said. “Shakespeare was grappling with this reality 400 years ago, and his observations are as true now as they were then.”

Anchoring this production of Macbeth for The Acting Company and Brain are Gabriel Lawrence in the lead role and Angie Janas as Lady Macbeth. While these actors face all the challenges any touring play might, this duo has the added pressure of following some of the noteworthy talents who’ve brought these characters to life in the past, including Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh.

“Their performances are something vital that’s easy to say and so very hard to do: they show us human beings,” said Brain. “With characters like (these) an actor has 400 years of traditions and expectations layered on top of the text. But these two have done a beautiful job of creating their Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Their characterizations are founded in Shakespeare’s words and how they meet these young and vigorous artists.”

Another talent that stands out in this production is Suzy Kohane as the Weird Sister. Add to that the fact that The Acting Company is no stranger to The Whiting and the potential for this performance to continue to impress just like it’s done across the rest of the country throughout its current tour grows by leaps and bounds.

“(Suzy is) present in almost every moment of the production. She watches and interacts with everyone, and through her voice and precise physicality creates a being both human and more than human,” Brain said. “Our production of Hamlet (directed by artistic director Ian Belknap) played the Whiting last season, and in my memory it was one of our favorite venues from that leg of the tour.”

Because Brain and The Acting Company have their choice of classic works to choose from, their reasons for selecting Macbeth are several-fold and include its timeless themes of personal duality and the basic struggle between good and evil. The play also explores the issue of right and wrong at its most base level while proving certain parts of the human condition stay true regardless of the time period.

“For me, as a director, this is one of my favorite plays in the English canon. Despite having staged it twice and having seen it a countless number of times, there remains a paradox at the heart of this play that continues to scare me, and that’s what I look for in great art: the questions that we can never stop asking ourselves,” said Brain.

“For me, the crux of this play comes down to the fact that I admire Macbeth, even like him, and yet over the course of five acts he becomes a monster.”

Tickets for Macbeth are on sale now and all seats are $35. Other events coming up at The Whiting include the Irish dance production Rhythm in the Night on Saturday at 8 p.m,, on March 28 Peter and the Star Catcher will be performed at 3 and 8 p.m. and Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood will perform at the venue on April 11 at 8 p.m. Details: www.theactingcompany.org or www.thewhiting.com.

“That humanizing of evil is one of the most important things that the theatre, especially classical theater, can do, and this is one of the finest example of that process,” Brain said. “It’s when we see evil, know it, and acknowledge that it’s part of us. That’s when we’re capable of transcending it. I’ve loved this play since my mother read it to me as a child and I’m sure I will be thinking about it on my death bed.”

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