Theater : Shakespearean style murder at the Playhouse
For a dose of appropriately spooky entertainment this Halloween, head over to the Vineyard Playhouse this weekend, as witches, ghosts, murder, and madness mix it up on stage. You might even discover that "the play's the thing" to relieve your winter doldrums.
In the second of what will be a winter-long series, Nicole Galland and Chelsea McCarthy are presenting abbreviated staged readings of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" this Friday and Saturday, free of charge.
Vineyarders are invited to experience some of the serious work of the bard, supplementing the traditional summer productions of Shakespearean comedies at the Tisbury Amphitheater. The idea is to entertain and educate with the series, explained as being, "quick, painless, and free Shakespeare."
Adapted by author Galland and actress McCarthy, and performed by a troupe of local actors who have all been involved in either the Amphitheater productions or the Fabulists, the relatively short production of "Macbeth" clocks in at slightly over an hour.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Galland is convinced that Islanders can be won over. "I think there's a real interest in storytelling on Martha's Vineyard, but there's some fear of the bard," so the productions are enhanced by Folio, an added character who serves as narrator, guiding the audience through both the action and some of the more difficult dialogue.
"Macbeth" seemed like a natural for this month. Chris Brophy, a Playhouse regular who will portray Macbeth, agrees. "I've always wanted to do Macbeth for Halloween," he says, "I think it's a fantastic story. It's a tight script. If you keep it real, it should be scary because of what happens to an otherwise happy couple. It could really happen."
From the opening coven scene, to the tragic ending, Macbeth is relentlessly dark and tense with both the initial murder scene and the banquet scene classics of white-knuckle terror.
Brooke Hardman Ditchfield, who will play Banquo as well as other roles, is currently teaching an evening class, "Understanding Shakespeare," at the regional high school. Ms. Hardman performed and taught Shakespeare for much of her theatrical career. Her enthusiasm is obvious when she talks about the rhythm and meter of the dialogue, and how she can learn as an actor from the bard. She calls Macbeth "Shakespeare's great action movie."
Ms. Galland is somewhat evasive about how the action will be handled in the staged readings, but she confesses to having procured swords, and reflects that the fights should be comparatively easy to stage since the actors are not limited to the script. She and Ms. McCarthy were still editing last week as they rehearsed. She explains that the goal is to put the emphasis on the story and the characters, not on the language.
Ms. Galland will help navigate the audience through the twists and turns of the conspiracy story. "If a character says the same thing three different ways, we will choose the clearest," she explains.
She played the Folio in "Hamlet," first in the series, as sort of a very enthusiastic fan, but this time, she says, her narrator will be more in tune with the atmosphere of the play. "I'Il try to strike a tone similar to the witches - keeping it in the spooky mode."
Ms. Galland plans to continue the series with "King Lear," "A Winter's Tale," and "King John," an infrequently produced play that's one of her favorites. She says, "The original idea was not to just do the greatest hits."
Ms. Galland is the author of three novels set in medieval times. However, she has spent much of her student years and career working in the theater. She has loved Shakespeare from a young age, and he has directly influenced her work as a writer. She says, "In every one of my novels there's either a fool or a cross-dressing character."
She directed "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Amphitheater 13 years ago, before she headed to Los Angeles. She returned to the Vineyard two years ago to work on her most recent novel, "Crossed." However, a serendipitous meeting with Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo revealed that it was time Ms. Galland stepped back into a life in which she has long been immersed, and this past summer she directed "As You Like It".
Not surprisingly, there are talented Shakespearean actors on the Vineyard, and they all seem to share the same sort of reverence that Ms. Galland holds for the playwright.
And this Halloween weekend, in the hands of this seasoned troupe, the works of Shakespeare are sure to prove magical - Goosebumps and all.
Macbeth, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 8 pm, Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Free. For more information, call 508-696-6300.
Oak Bluffs resident Gwyn McAllister is a freelance writer and volunteers for the Vineyard Playhouse.