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A CurtainUp Review
The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's Shogun Macbeth & Roust Theatre Company's Macbeth

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!-- .— Lady Macbeth
Some of Shakespeare's plays have been produced so much, that it's become a challenge to directors to emphasize their continued relevancy with new interpretations—even when they have actors with great box office appeal. the some dozen Macbeths Curtainup critics have encountered have included a marionette version at the New Victory Theater in New York. Our most recently reviewed MacBeth made a big stir not only because it starred Patrick Stewart but because Britain's latest wunderkind director Rupert Rupert Goold set the by now overly familiar Scottish play in Stalinist Russia. This high profile production was a hot ticket in London and again when it traveled across the pond to BAM in Brooklyn, and making a final leap to Broadway.

Currently, not one but two new productions of Shakespeare's shortest and bloodiest tragedy have arrived in town. Both are presented by small companies—The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and The Roust Theatre Company. Both are departures from the expected and worth their dramatic salt.
Shogun Macbeth
Kaipo Schwab and Rosanne Main Shogun Macbeth
(Photo: Corky Lee)
In Shogun Macbeth at the Julia Miles Theater, Shakespeare's play shifts hemispheres and cultures, channeling its energies to the feudal military dictatorship of 12th century Japan. Shoguns rule here, and warring clans ruthlessly battle one another to the point of death. The production superimposes the classical Japanese art forms of Noh and Kyogen on the Elizabethan text and the hybrid result is strangely satisfying. To be sure, we still get to experience Shakespeare's language, but it's punctuated here with Japanese place names, the samurai spirit, and an Asian twang. There are also a few structural departures from Shakespeare's story, most conspicuously in its narrator, Biwa Hoshi (Tom Matsusaka). This ancient priest-like figure acts like a chorus, to appearing and disappearing like the mists surrounding Mount Fuji.

The acting is stylized, but possesses extraordinary power in its controlled movements. Macbeth (Kaipo Schwab) has the furious instincts and wild passion of a primal being. His animalistic nature fiercely plays out in his complex roles as a military leader, husband, and shogun. This Macbeth is no stuffed shirt. He's the quintessential warrior who ultimately becomes ruled by his unruly passions and ambition. Playing opposite Schwab is Rosanne Mar as Fujin Macbeth (“Fujin” means “Lady”or “Mrs.” in Japanese). She acts as the sharp spur to Macbeth's vaulting ambition, and we slowly see her pathological nature grafted onto Macbeth's more humane one. These 2 principals effortlessly carry the play, and are backed up by a fine ensemble. If you are familiar with the Kurosawa film adaptation of Macbeth, then you can rightly call this piece its stage counterpart. While the film was in Japanese with English subtitles, this production gives you the magnificent poetry of The Bard in his native tongue. Directed by Ernest Abuba, Shogun Macbeth has more than a dab of exotic air. This is a deeply-felt Asian interpretation of Macbeth, and it works splendidly. Whereas The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's Shogun Macbeth is marked with traditional Asian reserve, the Roust Theatre Company's Macbeth at Theater 3 is provocative with a capital "P." In fact, the company's ads w give fair warning to potential playgoers by calling it "a visceral R-rated ride from start-to-finish." To be sure, it lives up to its R-rating. Not for the Puritanical-minded, this is as sexy as it gets, zero-ing in on the sexual relationship of the Macbeths as well as the seductive powers of the Three Witches. Ambition, power, and sex all blur into a frightening whole of moral ambiguities.

Nearly all the actors are competent, and some are notable. Tracy Hostmyer turns in the best performance as Lady Macbeth. The attractive and statuesque Hostmyer confidently carries her large frame across the boards in all her crucial scenes. Even in her scene where she is wearing nothing but a sheer negligee, she bears herself with a regal dignity. She also has a powerhouse voice, and her monologues hit their poisonous mark. Trey Ziegler, playing Macbeth, looks the part with his florid coloring, reddish hair, and solid square frame. Though he seems to be mouthing his lines in the early scenes, by play's end he truly lives the words and inhabits his tragic role. In the scene where he's instructing the murderers to kill Banquo Ziegler's Macbeth reveals his self-hate by projecting it to the murderers standing before him, snidely comparing them to common dogs.

Considering the abundance of sexually-explicit scenes, the the breakneck pace works to i this streamlined show's advantage. After all, sexy scenes tend to work better if they aren't stretched out ad nauseum, forcing us to become bedroom voyeurs. Granted this x-rated approach is not for everybody, but Director James Phillip Gates takes real risks that deliver on most counts.

Happily, neither the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's Shogun Macbethor the Roust Theatre Company'sMacbeth are ever boring. Given that Shakespeare was no scribe of high-minded homilies, and probably would frown on his plays being staged as classics-by-rote, these bold interpretations bring his classic alive in striking new ways. They may not get everything right, but they certainly have put a good dent into the steel armor of one of the favorites from the bard's cannon.

Shogun Macbeth
Adapted by John R. Briggs from the play by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ernest Abuba
Cast: Tom Matsusaka (Biwa Hoshi), Shigeko Suga (Yojo 1), Claro Austria (Yojo 2), Emi F. Jones (Yojo 3), Keoni Scott (Shogun Duncan/Old Seward), Marcus Ho (Malcolm), Claro de los Reyes (Donalbain), Ken Park (Shoko/Young Siward), Ron Nakahara (Angus), James Rana (Ross), Kaipo Schwab (MacBeth), Ariel Estrada (Banquo), Rosanne Ma (Fujin MacBeth), E. Calvin Ahn (MacDuff), Sacha Iskra (Fujin MacDuff), Yoko Hyun (Fleance/Tara Kaja/Tea Server/Shinsha), Nadia Gan (Boy MacDuff/Jiro Kaja).
Sets: Charlie Corcoran
Costumes: Carol A. Pelletier
Japanese Movement: Sachiyo Ito
Lighting: Victor En Yu Tan
Fight Choreographer: Michael G. Chin
Stage Manager: Elis C. Arroyo
Julia Miles Theater at 424 W 55th Street. 212/239-6200.
From 11/04/08; opening 11/12/08/closing 12/07/08.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 7:30 with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays @ 2:30pm.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on November 9th press performance
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes plus a 10 minute intermission

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by James Phillip Gates
Cast: Kristin Barnett (Witch/Lady MacDuff), Melissa Center (Witch/Messenger), Emily Hubelbank (Witch/Maid/Fleance), Craig Braun (Duncan/Seyward), Isaac Woofter (Malcolm), Michael Peterson (Captain/Seyton), Nick Lawson (Donalbain/Murderer), Tom Macy (Angus/Son of MacDuff), Duane Boutte (MacDuff), Hugh Martin (Murderer/Doctor/Young /Seward), Tyler Moss (Ross), Andrew Pifko (Banquo), Trey Ziegler (Macbeth), Tracy Hostmyer (Lady Macbeth).
Sets: Casey Smith
Costumes: Heather Klar
Lighting: Travis Sawyer
Sound: John Kemp
Fight Director: Tyler Moss & Ben Curns
Stage Manager: Christine J. Massoud
Roust Theatre Company at Theater 3, located at 311 West 43rd Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). 212/868-4444.
Opens 11/13/08; closing 12/06/08
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on November 14th press performance
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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