Dr. Annie Pluto’s washing machine is on the fritz and it may or may not have something to do with the production of “Macbeth” that she’s directing this spring.
The classic Shakespearean tale of bloody determination set against the backdrop of Scotland’s monarchy has long enjoyed a history shrouded in superstition. Most famously, there’s the theatrical convention of never uttering the name of the play on stage or else destructive forces may wreak havoc on the production and its participants.
Although General Electric has made three trips to her home, Pluto puts the idea of a “curse” out of her mind.
“I try not to think about it,” said the longtime director of the Oxford Street Players (OSP), a Lesley theatrical performance troupe linked to an undergraduate four-credit drama course, now in their 23rd year.
This is the first time Pluto has tackled the Scottish tragedy, and, despite the broken washing machine, it’s been a great experience so far.
“It’s one of the shortest plays,” Pluto explained, “Which makes it easier in a way, but I actually think there’s an entire first act missing that follows Lady Macbeth and more of her story.”
As written, the plot of “Macbeth” follows the title character, a Scottish general who receives a prophecy of a future kingship from three witches, down a deadly path of ambition and moral turpitude.
Lady Macbeth, the aforementioned wife of the titular character, sets certain murderous plot machinations into motion. Senior English major Samantha Zarkower takes on the role with enthusiasm – “Macbeth” is her all-time favorite play by William Shakespeare.
“Getting this role was an insane shock,” said Zarkower. “I would have played a tree as long as I was spending my time with this play that I love so much.”
Zarkower digs deep into the material of her character, a well-known villain of the Shakespearean canon.
“It’s so much fun to engage with that spiral downward. She knows she messed up and she knows it big time – but she’s not past human connection and she has limits where Shakespeare’s famous villains have none.”
Cast connections, curse or no curse
OSP is known for their strong sense of community, sparking relationships and more than one marriage, and the current “Macbeth” cast is feeling the love. Several alumni have come back to the Lesley stage, ready to take on a familiar challenge.
Dyllan Squires ’18, an English and drama major, returned to campus to play MacDuff. Squires works in theater professionally now, with credits including Boston’s Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and couldn’t pass up the chance do another show with OSP, especially when it meant an opportunity to explore a new role.
“I like to play characters that have a little bit of twistiness to them,” he explained. “I think I’m finding that in MacDuff.”
Cast member Renan Fontes ’17, also an English and drama major and OSP veteran, is taking on the title role of Macbeth with fresh perspective.
“It’s a very different experience coming back as an alum – I’m definitely feeling my age,” he quipped. “I’m very much enjoying it – I’m finding Macbeth to be a very nuanced character. There’s a lot of layers, very sad at times, but great scenes and a lot of lines.”
The idea of returning to perform in Marran Theater was enticing to Veronica Mead, a recent double alumna. Mead completed her undergraduate degree in elementary education in 2017 and earned her M.Ed. in special education this past November.
“I had done three shows with Annie Pluto during my undergrad and when I found out she was doing ‘Macbeth,’ I asked her if I could come audition,” she said. “It’s definitely different since most of the cast are students and they live nearby, so it’s finding a balance of when can I stay and hang out and when I should go home and go to bed.”
“I can’t, I have rehearsal.”
For the Lesley students in the show, finding a balance between schoolwork, extracurriculars and rehearsal time is the goal.
Senior Cassidy Donahue, who plays Lennox in the show, counts on the support of her castmates when days get stressful. She’s the president of the Campus Activities Board, serves as a peer advisor and is wrapping up her final semester as an expressive arts therapy major.
“I’m taking 15 credits right now,” says Donahue. “I always come here prepared with stuff to do, especially for these tech nights when there’s not that much for the actors to do. I’ll bring homework and I’ll go sit in the green room where it’s quiet. It helps that I have a really supportive cast – they’re all really there for me.”
The dedication is worth it for transfer student Connor Pierce. He provides some much-needed comic relief to the show as an inebriated porter who makes his entrance after a major character meets their demise. It’s only Connor’s second semester at Lesley and he feels at home at OSP.
“Coming into it, I didn’t know anybody aside from two people that I met at auditions. The best part about it is that I’m getting to know people better, and, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think it’s going be a good play,” he said.
Freshman Andrea Mills and transfer student Ileana Periera are also new to the OSP family and they’re enjoying the process, playing the famous prophetical witches. Mills is excited to bring the show to life even though she experienced the “Macbeth” superstition firsthand.
“I’m really happy that I’m a witch because it’s up to us to show whether Macbeth’s downfall is his own fault,” she said. “As far as the curse of the play, I said it on stage and then I hurt my knee.”
It’s Periera’s first time on stage. Initially, she thought she’d be working behind the scenes.
“I’ve never done theater before, ever,” she explained. “I knew it was such a big commitment. I’ve always loved watching theater from the audience so it’s nice seeing the whole thing come together.”
Managing the stage
While the performers memorize lines and rehearse scenes, it’s the responsibility of stage manager Jace to keep all aspects of the show running smoothly.
“I do a lot of note-taking, giving lines and feedback and I’ve worked with some of the actors on their stage presence. It feels like I’m building connections with the whole cast. I’m loving that I’m a part of something that’s growing so beautifully,” she remarked.
With direction and guidance from Pluto and technical director Terry Chance, Jace makes sure that the pieces are in place.
“We have to know everything that’s going on with the show,” said Jace. “If something’s going a little bit awry, it’s up to us to make sure we get it back on track and it’s been so nice to have a partner in stage managing.”
Luckily for Jace, her assistant stage manager is a natural. Sophomore transfer student Charlotte Wade has a passion for theater in her blood, literally. Her parents met doing professional technical theater and she was brought up backstage.
“My mom has stories of me on her lap in the booth when she’s called shows – it’s very much ingrained in me,” said Wade.
With the show in capable hands, the cast and crew are looking forward to opening night and Zarkower is prepared to share the production with an audience.
“I am so ready to show the hard work and dedication everyone has put into this play. We've bonded over this experience and this is an incredible cast with an incredible ability to commit. I want the world to see that level of hard work.”
“Macbeth” show times
Catch the Oxford Street Players and their production of “Macbeth” in Marran Theater:
- Thursday, April 4 at 7 p.m.
- Friday, April 5 at 7 p.m.
- Saturday, April 6 at 7 p.m.
- Sunday, April 7 at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets are $5 and $10, call 617-349-8115 to reserve.