Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' gets Asian-themed makeover

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PAC production done in Japanese kabuki-style

By Robert Villanueva

While those familiar with William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” expect swords to clash during the play, the sword fights in an upcoming production are less traditional.


The sword fights in Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center’s production of “Macbeth” will be samurai sword fights.

In fact, the entire ProAm Classic production is done in Japanese kabuki-style, including sets, costumes and makeup. “Macbeth” is co-directed by PAC director Bart Lovins and technical director Aaron Taylor, and is not suitable for all ages. Lovins characterized the production as PG-13.

Ron Blair, who portrays the title character, said the nontraditional format does not necessarily pose a challenge because the core story transcends genres.

Hardin County audiences, he said, will love the production because “they haven’t seen anything like it.” Because “Macbeth” involves war and violent settings, the samurai fights are particularly fitting, he said.

“They were so vicious in their fighting,” Blair said of samurai.

The fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff required precise choreography and was difficult at first, Blair said.

“It’s like dancing,” he said, referring to Eric Pope, who portrays Macduff, as his dance partner.

Pope described Macduff as representing the more traditional, disciplined character in the samurai paradigm. He said the fight scene, like a dance routine for Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers, must be carefully choreographed because of the use of weapons.

“I’d like to think I’m Fred and he’s Ginger,” Pope said of Blair.

Moira Taylor, who plays Lady Macbeth, is no stranger to the play, having performed “Macbeth” during college. She said the kabuki-style production defies the notion Shakespeare is not accessible to the general public and “stuffy.”

“I think Aaron and Bart have crafted a show that’s easy to understand, easy to follow,” Taylor said.

In portraying Lady Macbeth, Taylor incorporated a trait she learned about from a man who had lived in Japan for a while. Customarily, Japanese women tend to cover their mouths when laughing, so Taylor included that gesture in her portrayal when Lady Macbeth is displaying her publically demure side.

Behind closed doors, she said, Lady Macbeth displays her controlling nature, describing the character as strong and very forceful.

Mitch Curry, who portrays Duncan, the king Macbeth murders to gain power, enjoyed the kabuki theme. He performed in a kabuki production in college.

“The whole element of the kabuki theater fits very well with this,” Curry said, explaining such a format is very stylized and suits such a dramatic production.

Brian Witcher, who plays Banquo, said the PAC production is his first Shakespeare play, and he’s always wanted to perform in Shakespeare. Incorporating Japanese elements in a play filled with English dialogue was a bit tricky, though, he said.

“It doesn’t trip me up,” Witcher said. “It just makes it challenging.”

Shakespeare first-timer Blake Ryan, who plays Ross, said the play was tough to learn, but he enjoyed the kabuki aspect.

“It adds to the entertainment,” Ryan said.

The production is the first time MacKenzie Blair, daughter of the lead actor, has performed Shakespeare. MacKenzie, who plays one of the three witches and Seyton, felt audiences would enjoy the kabuki-style production of “Macbeth” because the play has been done in a traditional format so many times.

Emily Kohler enjoyed another aspect of one of her roles, which, for her, was nontraditional. In addition to her role as one of the three witches, she got to portray a male character, Fleance.

“It’s always been cutsie little girls,” Kohler explained of her past roles, including “Oklahoma” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Shayne Ferguson, who plays Lennox, hoped the cast would get to do the play in Asian dialect.

“None of us could do it because we’re from Kentucky,” Ferguson said.

Still, at least one performer — Moira Taylor — observes a tradition associated with the play. Taylor, like many thespians, won’t refer to the play in the theater by its title because of theater superstition that claims it is bad luck to do so. Like many other actors, she calls it “the Scottish play” or something similar when in the theater.

“I think I’m the only one who believes it,” she said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

IF YOU GO: The Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center ProAm production of “Macbeth” will be presented 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the PAC at John Hardin High School. Tickets are $15 for the production that is characterized as PG-13. For more information, call (270) 769-8837.