Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A West Coast Macbeth

Sexy and conceptually innovative restagings of The Scottish Play seem to be all the rage these days. Sleep No More, Punchdrunk's immersive, film noir-style take, in which audience members follow different characters from room to room, is into its second year at a New York hotel. The National Theatre of Scotland did a one-man version of the play on Broadway last year starring Alan Cumming. And on through this Sunday at the Russian Hall on Campbell Street in Strathcona is To Wear a Heart So White, Leaky Heaven Circus' re-imagining of the text for our Coast Salish West Coast that is equal parts historical, liturgical, and scatological.

In the Shakespearean canon one thinks of The Tempest as the "postcolonial play"--as, indeed, it has been taken up in countless rewritings, including Aimé Césaire's classic Une Tempête. However Leaky Heaven director Steven Hill and his creative collaborators take as their starting point for this piece the fact that shortly after "discovering" our fair shores, Captain George Vancouver (along with Captain James Cook and others, one of several white colonial "ancestors" to whom we are invited to pay homage at the top of the show) and his crew staged as a little diverting theatrical entertainment for Indigenous locals a version of--you guessed it--Macbeth. Using Shakespeare in this way to reconfigure the colonial project not as a Prospero-like act of magic (e.g., the depopulating rhetorical sleight-of-hand that comes with declaring an inhabited region terra nullius) but as a calculated power grab and incredibly bloody conquest is a bold and fascinating move. As is the suggestion that the violence continues in and through Shakespeare's historical and contemporary (re)productions--from the various audio and video excerpts from past Macbeths to which the Leaky Heaven actors attempt to synch their performances to that species of local theatrical colonization that unfolds every summer in Vanier Park.

Plot-wise, To Wear a Heart So White condenses the action to the three characters of Macbeth (Alex Ferguson), Lady Macbeth (Lois Anderson), and Banquo (Sean Marshall, Jr.). And, taking a cue from Roman Polanski, the creative team does not stint on the gore. At the climactic banquet scene (generously laid to involve a portion of the audience), Banquo, oozing blood from the knife stuck in his back, serves a pig's head to the newly crowned king and queen, whom we see (via outsized pantomimed gestures) and hear (courtesy of Nancy Tam's brilliant sound design) gulping their wine and slurping their food with lustful abandon.

The play concludes with Ferguson's Macbeth accepting a bear's head from Marshall's Banquo, and being coaxed by Anderson's Lady Macbeth into taking to the proscenium stage with it (where several of the scenes, along with Parjad Sharifi's amazing projections, take place). Once on stage, Ferguson recites Macbeth's famous concluding soliloquy ("Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."). Following a brief blackout, Marshall emerges with a step-ladder and squeegee, and as he appears to wipe down the condensation from the inside of the rain-swept windshield we see projected on the screen, Ferguson reappears from the stage's back safety door in full British naval regalia. A perfect synecdochic image linking our colonial past to our neoliberal present.


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