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Shakespeare festival puts new spin on classic theater

Imagine the pitch: a madcap rendition of William Shakespeare’s bloody revenge tragedy Macbeth—but funny, and with kids as actors. Sound good?

Well, that is exactly what the students in this year’s Summer Shakespeare Camp successfully pulled off, in a play called Mostly Macbeth, produced as part of Ophelia’s Jump’s Midsummer Shakespeare Festival.

Adapted by associate artistic director Caitlin Lopez, the play tells the tale of Macbeth’s murderous ascension to the Scottish throne, goaded on by his ambitious and scheming wife, but with the addition of numerous asides and seemingly off-script moments that result in a campy, deadpan review of the awful events.

It opens in very Shakespearian fashion with a play within the play, as Miss Byer (Grace Deppe-Waldschmidt) announces that the students will soon present a revue of hit songs from the fictional musical Annie on Broadway.

Not interested in performing a boring musical, the cast stages a mutiny, tying up and gagging Miss Byer and her assistant Miss Malone (June Pieske). They then announce that plans have changed and that the troupe will present a truncated and speedy production of Macbeth that everyone agrees is far more interesting.

The lead characters, Macbeth (Alexander Limones) and Lady Macbeth (Aileen Hanoum), both age 14, did a superb job of seamlessly transitioning from the play’s more serious moments into the humorous ones, which included a fair amount of physical comedy. Alexander’s delivery was particularly spot-on. With the exception of the two leads, the rest of the cast played multiple roles, which required constant costume changes.

Ms. Lopez said the students, ages 10 to 14, provided many of the ideas that eventually made it into the final script. For example, Brandon Esfandiary joked during rehearsal that his character, King Duncan, should be eating doughnuts, resulting in many puns based on his character’s name (Duncan’s doughnuts.)

Brandon had another fine moment when he protested, “What are they going to do, kill me?” resulting in a quip from Jacob Budner: “He clearly has not read ahead.”

The play pretty much follows the plot of the original, including a few of the soliloquies, which required that the cast memorize extensive portions of the text in Elizabethan English.

At the play’s conclusion, Miss Byer frees herself and confronts the mutineers only to have a mental break down that becomes an eureka moment where she confesses that the kid’s play was actually quite good.

The actors have been rehearsing for the past month, including learning improvisation, creating their own props and learning theatrical movements including stage combat.

Ms. Lopez said learning improvisation gave the students the self confidence to work through the entire script, even if somebody drops a line or the unexpected happens. “It gives them a feeling of autonomy and helps them stay in the moment,” she said.

Artistic Director Beatrice Casagran said that Macbeth, with its witches, magic spells and ghosts, had a “goose bump factor,” which was perfect for youth actors.

“Playing a character that is so over the top is very freeing,” Aileen said after Tuesday’s performance. “You can’t let out this kind of emotion in public, people would think you were insane.”

She is unsure whether a career in acting is for her, but it is certainly a possibility. “I have so many ideas that I don’t know what to do.”

Her fraternal twin, Gio, who said she was the one cheering the loudest during the play, said that Aileen was super excited about Ophelia’s Jump summer camp.

“It’s chaotic but really exciting to do an hour-long play,” Alexander added. “I like how much I learned and how to bond with people I don’t know. But the best part is making people happy, that was really fun.”

Unfortunately, the final performance of “Mostly Macbeth” took place Wednesday evening, however, the Midsummer Shakespeare Festival continues with three remaining performances, beginning with Taming the Shrew tonight at Pomona College’s Sontag Greek Theatre. The Adventures of Pericles: Prince of Tyre will take place Saturday, followed by another performance of Shrew on Sunday.

All shows start at 8 p.m., but arrive early because each play includes a “green show” at 7 p.m. Past acts have included musicians, improvisers, singers and dancers.

Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking on Friday and Sunday. On Saturday, there is a festival beginning at 5:30 p.m. that includes community vendors, artisans and booths hosted by local organizations. Stop at the photo booth, enjoy a Bert & Rocky’s frozen lemonade, or pick up a one-of-a-kind cigar box guitar.

The Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, which is in its sixth season, is a group effort by people who love the Bard’s plays. However, it is expensive to produce and basically breaks even every year, so any and all public support is appreciated.

Tickets are $25, and there are numerous package deals including some with partner businesses in the Village for food and drink. Additional information is available at opheliasjump.org or call (909) 734-6565.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com