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"Something wicked this way comes..."

A Review by Trish Morgan

There are times when you walk into a nearly-empty theatre, 20 minutes before the theatre fills and actors take the stage, and you are eager with quiet anticipation for what you are about to see. You know the direction will be spot-on, you know the perfect actors were cast in the roles, and you now see the creative mind of the theatre's set designer displayed and lighted for all to visit and marvel at his genius. EVERYTHING will come to life before your very eyes.


THIS is how I feel every single time I find myself at Cumberland Theatre (CT). I knew the next two hours would draw me into William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" like has never been done since my senior year at Bruce High School when Mrs. Dye captivated her students with one of Shakespeare's most dramatic stories. I wanted this performance to be the "be all end all" - as I had heard that the theatre was making this production its own.


Set in the drug-trafficking world of the 1990's, as opposed to the early 15th century when the story was written, the main theme of "Macbeth is the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints. It finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters.


Macbeth (played magnificently by Seth Thompson) is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment, and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play, he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, deliciously portrayed by Kimberli Rowley, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts.


One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murder’s aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition—helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches.

Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frightening female characters. When we first see her, she is already plotting Duncan’s murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. At one point, she wishes that she were not a woman so that she could do it herself.

Thompson and Rowley were fabulous in these roles. Their chemistry is undeniable, and they both play off one another's evil-doing and master manipulations to make this updated tragedy work. Thompson's madness build and builds throughout the scenes, and Rowley's "out out damn spot" was haunting and worth every scare she conjured with the reality of what she had done. "Raw, edgy and vulnerable" one fan stated after she saw the weekend performance, and I concur wholeheartedly.


There are serious themes throughout the play, so it is mostly suggested for adults. There is murder and mayhem, madness, gunfire and other violence - you will find yourself shocked and startled by it all.


As for this cast of sixteen, it is challenging at best to single out particular actors for their intense study of Shakespeare's words and thoughts. Each and every one mastered the difficult period piece and language that we no longer speak in our usual tongue. There are thee's and thou's as spoken in the early 1600's, but the audience soon understands the mood and the story as it unravels.

Witches One, Two and Three (Mark Worth, Alexandra Shephard and Ebony Gebbes), keep the storytelling transitions with their wicked banter and magical spells and potions. I found their character performances mesmerizing, especially Alexandra's delightfully-evil smiles, hisses and laughter. The witches' character development was well thought out and carried through.


Joe Staton, a British actor, director and producer based in New York City, took on the role of Banquo. His vast portfolio of theatre experience gave him that much-needed edge to make his presence known on stage. In fact, he tends to own every scene he is in. This was his first time on stage at CT, and I hope he will find it in his busy schedule to grace us here again in the near future. Bravo, Joe.



Another noted performer included John DeFilippo, who is quite the experienced Shakespearean actor and new to CT. It seemed he had much dialog to learn in the script, and nary was there a place he strayed from that script. His excellence in the theatre shined on stage.


Also worthy of a mention is Sean Besecker (Macduff). On stage, the mastery of his craft is evident in all that he does - whether it is building his character, projecting his voice, delivering his lines or fighting with such realism you can hardly believe every move is planned and choreographed. He certainly gave Macbeth his all as they fought for vengeance.


Hats off to the director of this production. Seriously. To take a tragedy written by someone like Shakespeare, put your own vision into it, and bring such innovation and creativity...just wow. And the fight scenes - with the choreography, the violence, the reality - A1. The work it took to pull all of this together, with cast members perfecting challenging dialog, director Sam Little excelled. I trust he knows his direction was worth all of that blood, sweat and tears.

Other actors and their roles were: Charlie Meeks (Duncan/Siward); Jace Courrier (Fleance/Young Siward) - great job on your death scene, young fella! Also, there were: Reed Lancaster (Ross); Jacob Waeyaert (Angus); Katelyn Shreiner (Seyton/Lady Macduff); Oliver Nau (Macduff's Son); Michael Reid (Sergeant/Murderer); Juan Danner (Doctor/Murderer).


Production staff, other than those mentioned above, were Marty Jellison (stage manager); Hayden Kline (assistant stage manager); Jennifer Clark (costume design); Xander Mulder (lighting design); Trevor McCabe (props master and board operator); Ebony Gennes (fight captain); Elizabeth Mudge (wardrobe assistant).


There are so many reasons to see this play this final weekend. So many. The set and ambiance, the costumes, the skilled lighting and board operations, seasoned actors - some new faces and some of our favorites - comfortable seating, art gallery, specialty drinks and Shakespeare. Final shows will be this Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Performances are made possible by generous sponsorship from Mary Splain Shrout, with additional funding by Wendy Snow Walker.


For reservations, call (301) 759-4990, or visit buy tickets online at www.cumberlandtheatre.com.

Photos by Perk Hull Design.


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A gritty reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic will run two weekends


The Cumberland Theatre will continue their 34th season of entertainment with William Shakespeare’s timeless Tragedy of Macbeth. The show will preview on Thursday, March 17th, have its official opening on Friday, March 18th and run through March 27th with evening performances at 8:00 pm and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm.


Macbeth is thought to have been first performed in 1606 and is one of the Bard’s best known and most performed plays, although it is his shortest tragedy. It has been translated into several different languages and spawned several film versions – the latest in 2021 starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand.


The Cumberland Theatre’s edgy reimagining sets Shakespeare’s classic against the gritty backdrop of the drug trafficking world of the late 1990's with an urban gothic aesthetic reminiscent of films like The Crow and Sin City.


Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become the ruler of his domain. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders Duncan and takes his place at the helm. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.

This timeless tragedy brings to life the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake.


The show is being directed by Sam Little, who directed last season’s award-winning production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The cast features both veteran CT actors and several new faces to CT stage.


Playing the titular role will be Seth Thompson who was seen in last season's Moonlight & Magnolias, Clue and A Christmas Carol. Kimberli Rowley, the theatre’s Co-Artistic Director, will play Lady Macbeth. Returning to the area in the role of Macduff will be Sean Besecker (last seen in A Christmas Carol). Oliver Nau (also last seen in A Christmas Carol) returns to play Macduff’s son. Others returning to the CT stage are Reed Lancaster as Ross and local actor Jace Courrier as Fleance. Both played principal roles in The Outsiders last fall.


The witches will be played by Alexandra Shephard (last seen in Ring of Fire), Ebony Gennes (last seen in The Outsiders and The Great Gatsby) and, making his CT debut, Mark Worth.


Others making their first appearance at CT are John DeFilippo (Malcolm), Joe Staton (Banquo), Charlie Meeks (Duncan/Siward), Katelyn Shreiner (Lady Macduff/Seyton), Juan Danner (Doctor/Murderer), Michael Reid (Sergeant/Murderer), and Jacob Waeyaert (Angus).

Left to Right, Row One: Seth Thompson, Kimberli Rowley, Sean Besecker, Oliver Nau, Row Two: Reed Lancaster, Jace Courrier, Alexandra Shephard, Ebony Gennes, Row Three: Mark Worth, John DeFilippo, Joe Staton, Charlie Meeks, Row Four: Katelyn Shreiner, Juan Danner, Michael Reid, Jacob Waeyaert

The design team for the show consists of Co-Artistic Director Rhett Wolford (set design), Jennifer Clark (costume design), Trevor McCabe (prop design) and Xander Mulder (lighting design). Run crew is comprised of Marty Jellison (stage manager), Hayden Kline (assistant stage manager), Bella McConnell (assistant stage manager), and Elizabeth Mudge (wardrobe assistant).


The show is being produced with sponsorship by Mary Splain Shrout and additional funding from Wendy Snow Walker. An opening night wine and cheese reception with the cast and crew will follow the March 18th performance at no additional charge. Tickets are available at www.cumberlandtheatre.com or by calling 301.759.4990.


The theatre is offering two morning performances for local schools on Thursday, March 24th and Friday, March 25th. To inquire about availability, please email kim@cumberlandtheatre.com.


Please note that the show contains violence, drug use and sexual situations and may not be appropriate for all viewers. Parental discretion is encouraged.


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The Cumberland Theatre will open its 34th Season this weekend with the touching and topical dramatic comedy The Cake. The show will run February 10th – 20th with Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Following the official opening night on Friday, February 11th will be a complimentary champagne reception to honor Dr. Peter Halmos for his contributions to the theatre. The show is being sponsored by Doug Schwab and Betsey Hurwitz-Schwab.


Written by Bekah Brunstetter (who is also a writer and producer on the famed television show This Is Us), The Cake is currently one of the most produced plays in regional theatres throughout the country. It centers around a vivacious, conservative North Carolina baker named Della who faces a crisis of conscience when Jen - whom she loves like a daughter - asks her to bake a cake for Jen's lesbian wedding to her partner Macy. Della prides herself on making cakes, not judgment calls – those she leaves to her husband, Tim, but for the first time in her life, Della is forced to re-examine her deeply held beliefs, as questions of morals, judgment and family swirl around them all.


Heading the cast as Della is local veteran actor Nicole Halmos. Recent CT appearances include Mrs. Peacock in Clue and several roles in A Christmas Carol. Also returning to CT as Della’s husband Tim is Shawn Cox, who was last seen as Colonel Mustard in Clue.


Making their Cumberland Theatre debuts will be New York based actor Olivia Billings as Jen and DC actor Ariana Caldwell as Macy. Billings has been seen in such productions as The Wolves (#8), Natural Shocks (Angela), and Matilda (Mrs. Wormwood). Caldwell is graduate of the University of Maryland's Theatre program. Her credits include Where Butterflies Go in the Winter (Zora), Noises Off (Belinda), and Citizen: An American Lyric (Citizen 1).


The show is under the direction of CT Artistic Director Kimberli Rowley. The design team includes Artistic Director Rhett Wolford (set design), Jennifer Clark (costume and prop design) and Brendon McCabe (lighting design). Other members of the creative team include Hayden Kline (stage manager), Eric Ringler (assistant stage manager), Caitlin Weems (props assistant), and Elizabeth Mudge (wardrobe assistant).



Tickets are available at cumberlandtheatre.com or by calling 301.759.4990. There will be a wine and cupcake tasting Friday, February 18th at 5:00 pm on the set of the show for a separate ticket price. More information is available on the theatre’s website. The VIP Star Box with food, beverages and balcony seating for eight people is also available to reserve by emailing kim@cumberlandtheatre.com.


Masks are required at all times inside the building.


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