Hills & Gardens
By Trudy Whitman
“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me, from the crown to the toe, topfull of direst cruelty!”
These words are spoken by one of the most notorious villainesses in English literature — Lady Macbeth. And when, through her formidable power of persuasion, she convinces her reluctant husband to kill the King of Scotland so that he, Macbeth, may sit on the throne with her by his side, the ensuing bloodbath drives the lady mad.
Lady Macbeth will walk the halls of her castle, trying in vain to get out the “damned spot,” in this summer’s Carroll Park production of “Macbeth” by the Smith Street Stage company under the creative directorship of Beth Ann Leone. Last summer Smith Street Stage presented “Romeo and Juliet” in the park at Smith and Carroll streets. I asked Leone if she had chosen another of Shakespeare’s tragedies because they are easier to mount than the Bard’s comedies.
Leone responded that she never found this to be the case. Most important when crafting this summer’s production was finding a director she trusted, she said, and when Jonathan Hopkins, who played Romeo in the park last year, agreed to direct, he told her that “Macbeth” interested him most.
“I’d rather go in that direction than pick a play and find a director passionate about it,” Leone explained. She added that Hopkins will be working with actor Ben Horner in the role of Macbeth. Both were students at the Yale School of Drama, where they worked closely together.
Smith Street Stage came about after a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” in which Leone was cast, was cut from another company’s season because of budget constraints.
Leone revealed that she was “in the process of putting her stamp” on the role of Juliet and “wasn’t ready to put it away.” She wanted to see something that she “built and created come to life.” So she gathered fellow thespians and presented the idea of outdoor Shakespeare in Brooklyn. When “Romeo and Juliet” played to enthusiastic applause from neighbors, Leone realized that “this was going to have to be part of my life from now on.”
Moreover, she offered, it is very gratifying to be in a position to “give good actors more work. I’m surrounded by a lot of talented people, and I wanted to celebrate that talent.” As she did last year, Leone called on actor friends with degrees from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the drama schools of the University of Connecticut and Yale to fill out the “Macbeth” cast.
Like “Romeo and Juliet,” the Smith Street Stage production of Macbeth will be family fare. Leone noted that sometimes grownups “don’t give children enough credit” when it comes to live theater. Children, she insisted, enjoy classic theater and “understand a lot more than some adults believe” they do.
To streamline the drama for the park audience, “Macbeth” will run for 90 minutes. Some of the characters will be eliminated, with nine actors playing the other roles. Although the story line is simplified, Leone said, “all the meat is still in there.” The play will be done in modern dress and enhanced with live music. Leone will play one of the three witches, all of whom act as puppet masters under Jonathan Hopkins’s direction. “The witches,” explained Leone, “will be manipulating the world a little bit, so they will flip in and out of other characters.”
Beth Ann Leone credits the Friends of Carroll Park, an organization she called “incredible,” with being instrumental in the success of Shakespeare in Carroll Gardens. With their help, the park house will become a Scottish castle in July, and we all will be able to witness the disaster that results from the coming together of covetous humans with evil weird sisters.
“Macbeth,” which is free to the public, runs from July 13-17 and 19-24, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating and visit www.smithstreetstage.org for additional information.