Some folks think of princess-to-be Kate Middleton as a calculating social climber, but what if her aristocratic ambitions went so far that she convinced Prince William to eliminate his obstacles to the crown by regicide? And what if his villainous deeds led to the necessity of removing a few other innocent people in order to cover up the scheming couple’s crimes? Well, though none of that is likely to happen, it would make for great drama — and actually, it is. And you can enjoy this story of jealousy, betrayal, murder, and madness as Shakespeare for the Masses concludes their season with the ultimate power-driven conspiracy story — “Macbeth.”
The classic tragedy was the second play tackled by co-directors Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Galland two and a half years ago when they launched the initiative of presenting pared-down, narrator-enhanced staged readings of the works of William Shakespeare. The Shakespeare for the Masses series, dubbed “quick, painless, and free,” introduces the timeless stories and classic dialogue of the Bard aided by interpretation and imbued with a great deal of humor and contemporary references.
This time around the two directors have shortened the running time a bit to reach their goal of one-hour presentations, and somewhat changed their approach to the material. Last time, “Macbeth” was presented on Halloween weekend, and in keeping with the season, Ms. McCarthy and Ms. Galland played on the spook factor. For the redux, the two women have decided to focus on the relationship of the doomed eponymous couple, throwing in a few royal wedding comparisons in their ongoing effort to boost the works’ accessibility and entertainment value.
Chris Brophy will reprise his performance in the title role. The union actor, who previously played the lead in Boston’s New Repertory’s educational touring production of “Macbeth,” talks about what he learned from that experience. “I had this awesome co-star. She hated the idea of Lady Macbeth being evil,” he says. “They were the ideal power couple. They were so in love and really into each other. It wasn’t like ‘Oh my God, here come the Macbeths. Hide the children.’ Tragedy is people who are admirable and they fall, and you can see how they could fall.”
Although the Shakespeare for the Masses co-directors originally began the series with the intention of presenting the entire canon, including the lesser known material, throughout the course of a few seasons, this weekend’s production will mark the second time that they have reprised a play. In this case, time was a factor. Ms. Galland has been busy finishing up a novel based on “Othello.” She was inspired to write a version of the Shakespearean tragedy from the villain’s viewpoint after presenting the play last year. Ms. McCarthy, a veteran of Island Shakespeare productions, has been selected to direct the Vineyard Playhouse’s annual amphitheater production this summer. Having co-directed about 20 readings of Shakespeare, she will now take on her first role as director of a full-scale production when she helms “A Comedy of Errors” in August.
Since the two women had already revised the play once, “Macbeth” seemed to be an excellent choice, both for expediency and to end the season with a show that they hope will attract some new fans. Mr. Brophy notes that popularity of the series has grown each year to the point where there is now a bit of an Island cult. “It’s like our own version of ‘Rocky Horror,’ except people aren’t talking back…The way the kids are gobbling up Shakespeare for the Masses is great. One family has come to every show.”
More on Mr. Brophy
Mr. Brophy got his start in acting with the Vineyard Playhouse when he moved here over 20 years ago. He is a favorite among Island theater fans and is still remembered by many from his 12 years performing with the Island improv group, WIMP. For the last few years Mr. Brophy has been acting fairly steadily in Boston during the off-season. He has appeared in a number of productions in and around Boston and he won an Independent Reviewers of New England Award for best supporting actor in 2006.
Despite his successes off-Island, Mr. Brophy has no intention of leaving the Vineyard and he is thrilled that he has been given this opportunity to practice his craft here during the long winter months when he is not involved with summer projects — Shakespeare at the amphitheater and the Fabulists, theater for kids.
The consummate professional, Mr. Brophy puts a lot into preparing for his Shakespeare for the Masses roles. Lately he has been carrying around a couple of books on “Macbeth” and Shakespeare to study for his upcoming role, and he talks enthusiastically about rehearsing his lines in the Vineyard Haven cemetery, among other places. Since he has played Macbeth a number of times, he will mostly be able to perform without referring to the script. He will once again play opposite Amy Sabin, his co-star in the previous production, and the two will have a chance to further explore the lead roles.
Mr. Brophy notes that participating in the Shakespeare for the Masses program has been a learning experience and somewhat of a refresher course for him. For audiences, he says, “The beauty of this program is that it removes the intimidation that people might have about Shakespeare and helps them embrace it.”
Of “Macbeth,” the seasoned Shakespearean actor says, “Before I did it for the first time I didn’t realize it was so awesome and almost perfect…The Macbeths are the beautiful perfect couple who give in to their darker sides and try to control fate, and fate comes and stomps them down. ”
“Macbeth” by Shakespeare for the Masses, Friday and Saturday, April 29 & 30, 7:00 pm, Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Free.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.