Georgia Shakespeare’s new “Macbeth” pays tribute to Orson Welles’ so-called “Voodoo Macbeth” yet evinces a horror all its own.
As directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges in a partnership with the National Black Arts Festival, this tale of black magic and murder transports us to an island of lost souls where the music, dance and visual language suggest a dangerous brew of Christian and African mythologies. Washed in color and spectacle and set to a soundscape of jolting electronica by composer/sound designer Amatus-sami Karim, this “Macbeth” derives its power from a wild, trail-blazing theatricality that has little to do with skin color or politics.
Welles may have shocked 1936 audiences with his Haitian setting, prophetic all-black cast and (I suspect) ethnic stereotypes. But the decision here to use a mostly African-American company simply feels in tune with today’s world. This stylish production resists objectification, cheap horror and gore to dance to its own splendid drumbeat.
True, there are some wobbly, tentative moments, and considering that this is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, this version feels a tad long at 2 hours. But Myrick-Hodges’ talented team uses a tool kit of the imagination to stimulate the senses and breathe fresh appeal into a familiar pattern.
As the titular king, Neal A. Ghant possesses youthful pounce. As Macduff, newcomer Greg Lockett is charismatic and handsome. And the fatal pas de deux between these two, thanks to the whiplash fight choreography of Scot and Kelly Mann, is astonishing.
In the Macbeths’ coronation scene, all the glamorous ritualistic elements of the production coalesce: Costume designer Tamara Cobus cloaks Lady Macbeth’s kittenish orange jumpsuit in a flowing gown of spangles and net. Set designer Matt McAdon’s flying arch, suggestive of both castles and cathedrals, glides into place as the new court’s insignia is projected onto the background. It’s a perfect marriage of jaw-dropping gorgeousness and creepiness.
Such is the incantatory power of Cynthia D. Barker’s Lady Macbeth that she seems at times to speak in an almost voodoo gibberish.
Though Lady M manipulates her husband through sex as well as ambition and greed, the chemistry between Barker and Ghant doesn’t seem all that steamy. However the fleeting moments shared by Ross (Brik Berkes) and Lady Macduff (Joy Brunson) are loaded with erotic undertones. While Victor Love’s Hecate is a bit of a hoarse raven, the trio of grotesquely deranged twitchy witches (Danyé Brown, Enoch King and Carrie Smith) is magnificent.
This is not to say that every detail works. The “Perfidia” interlude stretches the tropical island conceit a bit thin. The paparazzi cameras are a little lame. And the opening sequence, a video montage of digital gobbledygook, may confuse more than enlighten.
But when the blood flows and the projections suggest a kaleidoscope of chaos tinged with beauty, this monumental “Macbeth” will move you in a way that is sobering and haunting all at once.
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 28. $13-$45. Georgia Shakespeare, Conant Performing Arts Center, Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-504-1473, gashakespeare.org
Bottom line: Thrilling.
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