Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Adrian Roberts appear in African-American Shakespeare Company’s contemporary interpretation of “Macbeth.” (Courtesy Joseph Giammarco)

African-American Shakespeare Co. sharpens Macbeth’s dagger

Modern translation of classic tragedy resonates

A man in a homeless encampment steps forward to announce, “I must become a menace to my enemies.” One homeless person, then another, picks up the refrain of the June Jordan poem.

This is not your grandfather’s “Macbeth,” but it is “Macbeth” as adapted in a modern verse translation by Migdalia Cruz and powerfully produced by the African-American Shakespeare Company.

Director L. Peter Callender’s vision for this classic story of ambition and betrayal is thrillingly modern and dystopian. He has assembled an impressive cast to work within the effective and efficiently crafted environment created by designers Samira Mirama (set dressing), Kevin Myrick (lights), Jeff Mochus (sound) and Keri Fitch (costumes).

It all serves the text which, as reshaped by Cruz into a smooth two-hour running time, feels burnished as if by the same whetstone that sharpened the dagger Macbeth sees before him. The pacing and Callender’s staging feel cinematic, with scenes flowing effortlessly from one to another in front of and around the audience.

An impressively talented cast of nine plays all the roles, doubling and tripling parts in quick succession, with only Adrian Roberts maintaining the singular focus of the title role. He is by turns menacing, malleable, cowardly and resolute in his descent from ambitious nobleman to murderous traitor.

As Lady Macbeth, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong is every bit his match. Cunning, shameless, quick-witted and ruthless, she goads and cajoles her thane into actions and repercussions he would never have imagined before descending into madness.

One after another, the cast — no poor players these — strut but never fret their time onstage.

In her primary role as Banquo, Champagne Hughes is an able warrior and loyal friend who with a flip of her braids becomes a chilling and accusatory ghost. Funmi Lola, stuffed bear tied to her clothes, expertly plays a range of roles from a smart-mouthed Macduff child to a terrified courtier.

Richly resonant scenes are played by Sumi Narendran in her primary role as Seyton and Lijesh Krishnan as both Duncan and Macduff. Both possess immense vocal prowess and stage grace, as does Oluchi Nwokecha, fearless as Ross and outstanding in essaying the text.

Mohana Rajagopal becomes, among other parts, one of the weird sisters in a wonderfully creative presentation of the famous characters, and Jamey Williams completes the cast as Malcolm.

Exciting and inventive, Callender and company are to be congratulated for bringing this classic play to modern resonance.

REVIEW

Macbeth

Presented by African-American Shakespeare Company

Where: Taube Atrium Theater, Veterans Building, fourth floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes July 28

Tickets: $35

Contact: www.brownpapertickets.com

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