Pulse Ensemble Theatre Sets ‘Macbeth’ in Afghanistan

As the culminating event of its twentieth season, Pulse Theatre Ensemble, under the direction of Alexa Kelly, will present a Free Shakespeare production of “Macbeth” in Governors Island August 7-8 and Riverbank State Park August 12-28. The innovative adaptation sets Macbeth as a power hungry Marine, King Duncan as a Warlord co-operating with the US troops and the witches as Afghani war widows. The tension mounts until Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are brought down by their own greed, guilt and fear.

Macbeth (L, Brian Richardson) and the three witches (LR: Erica Chambers, Leigh Ellen Caudill, Regina Gibson). Photo by Cathy Rocher.

This is the sixth season that Pulse Ensemble Theatre’s Harlem Summer Shakespeare program will present a free production in Riverbank State Park. This year, performances will be in the park’s indoor theater facility, since the park’s (newly-renovated) Amphitheatre is closed this year due to budget constraints. The play is free to the public on a first come, first served basis. It is a feature of Harlem Week (www.harlemweek.com).

Pulse Theatre’s Harlem Summer Shakespeare productions are known for updating the visual aspect of Shakespeare’s plays while keeping the Bard’s language intact. Previous Harlem Summer Shakespeares have been consistently acclaimed. “The goal is to excite and entertain a non-theatre going audience, and inspire them with the limitless possibilities of live theatre,” writes director Alexa Kelly, who has directed all six. Her adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (2005) was inspired by West Indian Carnival and Calypso music. “Romeo and Juliet” (2006) was loosely based on the TV show “Law & Order.” “The Tempest” (2007) was inspired by “Lost.” “Twelfth Night” (2008) was inspired by image-conscious New Yorkers obsessed with their fitness rituals. In 2009, Pulse mounted a touring version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in the NY inner city, performing in Governors Island and in five Manhattan locations.

“Macbeth” has Alexa Kelly again in the director’s chair. Set design is by Zhanna Gurvich (Assistant Designer, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Taboo” and Broadway’s “Gypsy” and “Cabaret”). Lighting design is by Steve O’Shea (Westport Playhouse, TADA, Teatro De La Opera). Costume design is by Kimberly Glennon (Classical Theatre of Harlem, 2003 Obie Award Winner, Howard Hughes Design nomination for Marat Sade). Sound design is by Louis Lopardi (Boston Pops, Boston Ballet). Fight Choreographer is Carrie Brewer Hilton.

Veteran Shakespeare actor Brian Richardson, who plays Macbeth, hails from Trinidad, where he performed extensively with the Tent Theatre, and played the lead in many soap operas. Since his arrival in New York New York, he has performed roles such as Wong (in “The Good Woman of Setzuan”), Prospero (“The Tempest”), Puck (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and Malvolio (“Twelfth Night”). He has worked with the Metropolitan Playhouse, Pulse Ensemble Theatre, Barter Theatre, Bristol Riverside Theatre and others. He has also been featured on the London Fringe Theatre scene. He tours nationally a one man show about the great Civil Rights Activist W.E.B. Du Bois.

Renee Flemings (not to be confused with the opera singer), who plays Lady Macbeth, is known from “Law and Order” and “One Life to Live.” She has appeared in “For Colored Girls…” (as Lady in Green ) at the Paul Robeson Theatre, “Coyotes Calls” with PSNBC and with Blue Diamond Productions in NYC. She is also a Jazz and Blues singer and has performed in many well-known venues. Her one woman show, .” ..secrets…” has been presented at The Field, Women’s International Theatre Festival, National Black Theatre Festival, HERE, Philadelphia Fringe Festival and PSNBC.

Pulse Ensemble Theatre, founded in 1989 by Alexa Kelly, is dedicated to making the classics accessible and exciting to the youth of today; to multi-ethnic casting; to creating a nurturing environment for actors and to developing new audiences and providing outreach programs to the community. Based on Theatre Row for 13 years, Pulse presented outdoor Shakespeare in their courtyard. After losing its theater in 2002, Pulse began presenting free Summer Shakespeare in Harlem’s Riverbank State Park. The company also runs a weekly Playwrights’ Lab from which it develops a new play each year. With the support of the Indian American Arts Council, Pulse recently presented Anuvab Pal’s critically acclaimed play, “Chaos Theory.”

Director Alexa Kelly, was was raised and educated in London, where she was born to a Greek mother and a Scottish father. She studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, for three years. She then visited the US, where she got an MFA at UNC and worked on a Ph. d. at Florida State University. She came to New York City after a period of teaching acting and directing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she worked with such students as Doug Sills, Tim Hopper and Gary Garrison. She co-founded Pulse Ensemble Theatre twenty years ago, in 1989, and has been its Artistic Director ever since. She has directed its productions of such classics as “Juno & The Paycock,” “The Seagull,” “Murder on the Nile,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as contemporary plays, including most recently, “Chaos Theory” by Anuvab Pal. She is founding director of Pulse Ensemble’s Harlem Summer Shakespeare outreach series, which is now in its sixth season of presenting free Shakespeare in NYC parks. Over 20,000 people have attended the company’s productions in Harlem and on Governors Island.

She has worked regionally as a host for PBS-TV and as an actor, director and teacher at the Alliance Theatre, Walnut Street Theatre, Attic Theatre, Academy Theatre, Little Five Points and others. She was Literary Manager for the Walnut Street Theatre for two years and ran a drama program at FCI in Tallahassee for three years. She has taught and directed at UNC, FSU, and U of M, and Adelphi University.

The actors are Jeff Burchfield (as Duncan), Paul Pontrelli (as Malcolm), Akeem Folkes (as Donaldbain), Brian Richardson (as Macbeth), Renee Flemings (as Lady Macbeth), Aam Jonas Segaller (as Banquo), Danny Makali’I Mittermeyer (as Macduff), Shawn Williams (as Lennox), Mathew J, Harris (as Ross), Mia Anderson (as Angus); Wendy Snow, Erica Chambers and Regina Gibson (as The Witches), Gregory Wool (as Fleance), Kara Addington (as Mentieth) and Leigh Ellen Caudill (as Lady Macduff).

This project is sponsored in part by New York State Council on the Arts, Con Edison, Councilman Robert Jackson and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Riverbank State Park.

On Governors Island, performances are at Nolan Park. Shows are August 7 and 8, beginning at 2:30 pm both days. To get there, take the free seven-minute ferry from South Ferry to Governors Island. There is general admission on lawn seating; the running time is 1:45 (no intermission). Tickets are free and info is available at www.pulseensembletheatre.org or 212-695-1596.

At Riverbank State Park, performances are August 12 to 28. The production is staged in the park’s indoor theater facility. The park is located at 679 Riverside Drive (at 145th St.), Manhattan. To get there, take the #1 subway to 145th Street & Broadway, walk one block east to Riverside Drive and straight into the Park. Walk in direction of the river; the Arts Building is on your left. Or you can ride the M11 Bus (until 7 PM) or BX 19 directly into Riverbank State Park. The playing schedule is: Thursdays through Sundays at 7.30 PM. There is general seating; the running time 1:45 (no intermission). Admission is free. For more info, visit: www.pulseensembletheatre.org or call 212-695-1596.