The New York State Theatre Institute brings some star power to its latest production, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which will have its opening night on Saturday. Timothy D. Stickney, best known as the villainous R.J. Gannon from ABC’s “One Life to Live,” brings to life the 11th-century hero-turned-villain, Macbeth.
While he might be most familiar to audiences as the soap opera character, Stickney is an accomplished Shakespearean actor, having toured for three years with the National Shakespeare Company. He has played the roles of Hamlet, Oswald in “King Lear,” Escalus in “Romeo and Juliet,” Lorenzo in “The Merchant of Venice” and Orsino in “A Twelfth Night,” to name just a few.
At NYSTI, he has the challenge of portraying the famous general who betrays his king, egged on by his wife, Lady Macbeth, portrayed by Mary Jane Hansen, who has acted as well as written other NYSTI productions.
NYSTI’s staging of “Macbeth,” directed by British-born Elizabeth Swain, who also directed the theater’s production of “Ordeal by Innocence,” is done in such a way that it gives the production a timeless effect. The themes of the work — raw ambition, evil, consequence, passion and guilt — are certainly as relevant today as when Shakespeare presented Macbeth at the beginning of the 17th century.
To help give the play its timeless effect, the set and costumes are minimal and do not replicate any specific period of time, leaving them largely open to interpretation. The large, open black space on the set has obelisks whose shape and proportion remind one of the monoliths at Stonehenge. From there, the details of the various places portrayed in this space are left to the audience’s imagination.
“I think it will become very cool to see how you start to imagine it being difference places when we aren’t really going to be changing anything, just the lighting,” Stickney said.
The men’s costumes are storm trooperish in appearance, all black with padding. Costume designer Robert Anton made the costumes so that they reflect the Celtic period of the play and the darkness of the plot, but in an abstract way.
The play is action-packed from the start. The production opens in the middle of a battle, which Macbeth is waging against the Thane of Cawdor on behalf of Duncan, the King of Scotland.
This fight scene is just one of many in the show that have been carefully choreographed by NYSTI veteran David Bunce of Schenectady, who plays the role of Macduff, a noble. Combatants wield single-handed broadswords, which Stickney describes as “halfway between a metal club and a sword” and bucklers, which are like a round mini-shield. Using those types of weapons required some practice, as it demands a different position of the hips and feet, Stickney said.
On the way home from this first victorious battle, Macbeth and another general, Banquo, portrayed by NYSTI founding director John McGuire, meet three weird sisters who prophesy that Macbeth will be Thane of Glamys (which he already is), the Thane of Cawdor and the King of Scotland, and that Banquo’s son will sit upon the throne. The men don’t pay much attention to the women, but upon his return from battle, Duncan is so elated that he makes Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor to reward him.
From there, things start to snowball. Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to take the throne, and the two engage in a murderous plot to kill Duncan.
Stickney credits Hansen’s character, one of Shakespeare’s strongest woman characters, with driving the plot of the play. “The opportunity is there to create a really well-drawn character,” Hansen said. “I want him [Macbeth] to be great because his greatness is tied to my greatness. I want to take care of him. I want to love him,” she said.
One murder leads to another, until Macbeth is void of conscience and his wife’s conscience gets the best of her. “He’s a bit crazy,” said Stickney of his character. “The Scotsman is just creating his own world in the middle of conversations with people.”
Though shorter than many of Shakespeare’s works, the play is energy-intensive. “It moves at a pace that most of the shows I’ve worked in just don’t maintain,” Stickney said. “Once we get the idea to kill the king, it just goes. ‘Hamlet’ is like a marathon, but ‘Macbeth’ is like a sprint,” he said. And like any good drama, there’s a twist before the finish line.
WHERE: New York State Theatre Institute, Schacht Fine Arts Center, Russell Sage College, off Route 2, Troy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 2 and 9; 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 3 and 10; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8; 10 a.m. weekdays today, Feb. 5-7, 12, and 13.
HOW MUCH: $20 for adults, $16 for seniors and students; $10 for children to age 12.
MORE INFO: 274-3256 or www.nysti.org
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Categories: Life and Arts