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Death by the River: Macbeth Weaves its Spell on the Boardman

Carol South - July 22nd, 2004
Merging Shakespeare and summertime is a full-fledged tradition in Traverse City.
While sunlight sparkles through the trees at Hannah Park and shadows creep eastward through the evening, a troupe of veteran actors will reenact the age-old tale of Macbeth. For three weekends starting this Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25 at 6 p.m., the Riverside Shakespeare Company presents this classic story of power, betrayal, murder and redemption.
The show is directed by Phil Murphy and features a cast of 30 actors, most of them Old Town Playhouse alumni including Brian Dungjen as Macbeth, Michelle Perez as Lady Macbeth and Tom Czarny as Macduff.
With the Boardman River as a backdrop and a grassy knoll for a theater, Murphy’s challenge was to adapt the complex story for the open-air venue. Competing with traffic noises, airplanes, a picnicking audience and passing kayakers did not phase him so much as the lack of defined acoustical space.
“Anytime actors turn away and speak toward the river, you can’t hear a thing they’re saying,” Murphy said, noting he is coaching his team during rehearsals to project and connect with the audience at a much greater level than needed indoors. “In the theater when you’re speaking, your voice is going to fill the space and contain you.”
Murphy also winnowed down some of the lengthy discourses in the five-act play to better fit the outdoor atmosphere.
“Here you’ve got this play with lots of action and all these wars going on, then all of a sudden two characters stop and wax philosophically on the meaning of honor,” said Murphy, who directed ‘As You Like It’ for Riverside Shakespeare in 2002.
Riverside Shakespeare is the brainchild of Dungjen and another area theater veteran: drama teacher and actress Jill Beauchamp.
After kicking around the idea for years, Dungjen and Beauchamp launched the company in the summer of 2000 with ‘Love’s Labor Lost.’ Delving into the Bard’s rich comedic tradition, they presented ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 2001, ‘As You Like It’ in 2002 and ‘Twelfth Night’ in 2003.
When Beauchamp took a hiatus from the company this summer, the dark drama of Macbeth leaped to the top of Dungjen’s list. After more than 20 years immersed in theater, he longed to play the villainous character whose lust for power drives a descent into evil.
“For a male actor, it is a choice role right up there with King Lear, Richard the Third and Falstaff,” said Dungjen, who is producing the show with some help from Beauchamp.
He found it intriguing to explore the dark side of humanity by playing the richly drawn but increasingly wicked Macbeth.
“Macbeth is one of those roles where he starts out as a fairly nice, normal person and then all of a sudden it is suggested to him that he can have all this power, and he basically just goes nuts, goes overboard,” Dungjen said. “It builds on itself and feeds on itself and then he’s killing his best friend and killing the king. Both he and his wife grab for power with both hands.”
The five-show run of Macbeth’s is scheduled for the following dates: Saturday, July 24, Sunday, July 25; Sunday, August 1; Saturday, August 7 and Sunday August 8. All shows begin at 6 p.m. at Hannah Park, Sixth and Union Streets. Admission is free but donations are welcomed.
 
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