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Centuries-old ‘Macbeth’ still relevant



Maybe the language sounds arcane to untrained American ears, but British director Stephen Wrentmore believes the personalities in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” are as modern as today. In fact, he has added some newsreel camera coverage to Arizona Theatre Company’s production. The newsreel coverage is to remind us Macbeth was a national hero in his time.

“We need to remember, in the beginning of the play, the Macbeths were very well-liked. Macbeth was a charismatic war leader,” said Wrentmore. “There’s something timeless about the manipulation of power. And it was only because of his carelessness at the banquet that the others’ perception of him begins to change. ”

It is in creating how this perception evolves on stage – how it percolates awhile and then changes as evil leads to more evil – that interests the director. To Wrentmore’s mind there is power in this perception. The manipulation of power walks hand in hand with the manipulation of celebrity.

“One of the things about this play I’m most interested in is how things get told to people,” he said, sitting on the patio of a downtown restaurant one recent afternoon. “How people are perceived is so pertinent to today.”

These days national perceptions are developed by the media, that mix of electrons and printed pages with the power to spread an impression of someone around the world in a matter of minutes. Asking your neighbor for the facts might be a good way to choose a Tucson restaurant, but it’s not much help in finding out what President Bush has been up to lately. For that, we rely on the media. Wrentmore wants to project a sense of that immediacy onto the Scottish king.

But he won’t be getting too literal about it.

“My responsibility is only to suggest connections,” he said. “The rest is left up to the audience.

“The set we’re using isn’t realistic; it’s expressionistic. And the costumes only approximate a specific time period.”

Times being what they are, it is Lady Macbeth who receives all the pop culture attention these days. Without thinking too much about her role in Shakespeare’s play, the name Lady Macbeth has come to mean a strong-willed woman who manipulates a weaker-willed man. More specifically, the Shakespearian character is linked to Hilary Clinton.

Wrentmore acknowledges the connection, but says Jackie Kennedy in her day was also compared to Lady Macbeth.

“The play ‘Macbeth’ isn’t seen as a solo journey anymore,” the director says, noting the ability of this centuries-old literary classic to shift its meaning with the times. “The play functions fully when the Macbeths are seen as a couple. What is unique about them is that it’s their love for each other that keeps them together.

“The presence of evil didn’t drive them apart. It took the combined pressure of his evil compounded by her evil to do that.”

So has it taken society so long to finally see qualities Shakespeare acknowledged centuries ago? Or is this Lord and Lady Macbeth combo just a coincidence of political correctness? Wrentmore won’t hazard a guess.

‘”Macbeth’ is always a play that’s been defined by its leading actor. But unlike other Shakespeare plays such as “The Merchant of Venice,’ which are becoming dated, ‘Macbeth’ grows increasingly more relevant.”

For his production, Wrentmore cast Matt Loney to play the badgered warrior. Loney’s résumé includes Broadway roles in “The Sound of Music,” as well as Christopher Plummer’s revival of “King Lear.” Before all that, nicely enough, Loney grew up in Douglas, just southeast of here, and graduated from the University of Arizona.

Lady Macbeth will be played by Celeste Ciulla, whose off-Broadway and regional theater credits include “bee-luther-hatchee,” “The Tempest” and “The Trojan Women.”

if you go

What: Arizona Theatre Company presents “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.

When: 7:30 p.m. preview today, opening at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, continuing at various times Tuesdays through Sundays to April 30

Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Tickets: $26-$44

Details: For reservations, call 622-2823 or visit www.arizonatheatre.org

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