If you go
‘MacBeth, a Love Story’
What: Shakespeare in Paradise presents a targeted, abridged version of the bard’s classic
Where: Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Drive
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays Jan. 20 through 30
Admission: $20 for NBG Members, $25 non-members
Something else: A play, plus four-course wine dinner catered by Artichoke & Co. at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 20; $100, members; $125, others, proceeds benefit the Garden
Is it OK to tweak a timeless classic? John McKerrow thinks so.
And he hopes Naples theatergoers think so, too. He is the founder of the “Shakespeare in Paradise” theater company and he will bring his revamped version of “Macbeth” to the Naples Botanical Gardens, starting Jan. 20. His offering: “Macbeth, A Love Story.”
But there’s a catch — “Love Story” has a cast of only four. Playing the lead role in a “Macbeth” production at the Laboratory Theater Fort Myers two years ago, inspired him to create this play, he says. He wanted to bring Shakespeare to Naples.
“In one of the most affluent places in the country … It’s high time we have a professional Shakespeare company,” said McKerrow, 48. “Naples is a rising arts destination.”
Although McKerron did away with most of the characters, all of the original dialogue of the four characters remains intact.
“My idea was to make a shortened version (of Macbeth) and just try to get right to the point, with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth,” McKerrow says with a confident tone. “They’re sort of a power couple.”
In McKerrow’s pared down version of “Macbeth,” he turns the focus solely on the two main characters: Macbeth and Lady M. But there are other differences between the original and McKerrow’s reworking.
The wardrobe has gotten a makeover. Out: the standard-issue tunic traditional Macbeth might normally don. In: A black tuxedo fit for a more stately modern man.
So what about Lady M? Kathleen Butler Gravatt plays opposite McKerrow as Lady Macbeth, the amorous and ambitious wife of the would-be-king. Perched on the edge of a white sofa while wearing her costume — a fiery red evening gown, with a sequin design — Gravatt discusses her character’s attire and attitude.
“It just says ‘queen’ to me,” Gravatt says of her choice of garb. She says her wardrobe reflects her character’s flair: “I think she’s extremely feminine and sexual … and their connection is deep and electric,” Gravatt says.
While some might expect a Shakespeare theater company to lead with “Romeo and Juliet,” Gravatt explains why she likes “Macbeth” as an opener.
“Romeo and Juliet have still got a long way to go … they’re still concerned about trying to achieve an orgasm,” says the 52-year old Naples resident. “I’m way too jaded.”
With a smaller cast and a modern wardrobe, this MacBeth production may allow the audience to concentrate more on the relationship.
”I think, how he’s condensed it, just focused on them, is an interesting twist,” says the veteran Naples stage actress.
Gravatt also wants to convey all facets of her character’s personality. Traditionally, actresses have portrayed the character a negative light, completely ignoring her femininity.
“There’s a horrible preconception that she’s oversimplified … labeled ‘evil’ and ‘the downfall of Macbeth’. I don’t think that’s true,” Gravatt says.
The never-ending love story between man and woman transcends time and will always relate to an audience, McKerrow says. So the play will highlight the complexities of the love affair between Macbeth and Lady M.
”It is a simple message and a very entertaining one … taking it from the love story angle I think will engage people,” McKerrow says.
But even when he watches a traditional version of “Macbeth,” McKerrow says chemistry is apparent between the couple.
Having first read the play at age five, McKerrow is intimately familiar with the dynamic between the leading characters. As a Shakespearean student, teacher and actor, McKerrow considers himself an authority on playwright’s work.
But “Macbeth” stood out, for McKerrow, as the first to adapt because it already has a central narrative that focuses on the main character.
“Macbeth has 60 percent of the lines,” McKerrow says.
Also, “Macbeth” lacks subplots, making it easier for McKerrow to trim the dialogue by getting rid of the bit players.
Rounding out the small veteran cast are Mark Vanagas, who plays the witches and the doctor, and Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow, John’s wife, playing the role of Seyton.
With fewer lines, the cast will have fewer moments on stage. So McKerrow’s production wraps up in an hour. Traditional “Macbeth” productions often run three hours.
McKerrow also has practical reasons for his reduced cast size: a small budget. Other Shakespeare plays, like “A Mid Summer Nights Dream,” would require at least a cast of 12, he says.
“Theater companies don’t start up very often and when they do start up, they get a significant major grant, or a major donor,” says Rhona Saunders, Shakespeare in Paradise board member. McKerrow says, the budget for his production ran $5,000. The Naples Botanical Gardens has donated its space to Shakespeare in Paradise for eight shows. He anticipates 100 tickets will be sold each night, making it possible for his theater company to produce more shows.
“I am confident this will be a success,” McKerrow says.