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Columbus theater company Shak(espeare)ing things up with Macbeth

Courtesy of Amy Drake

One local theater company is choosing to be anything but typical when it comes to the classic works of Shakespeare.

The Drake Oration Company will be putting on a staged reading of a French playwright’s adaptation of “Macbeth” at the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s Shedd Theatre, located at 549 Franklin Ave. Amy Drake will direct the performance, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Friday.

In fall 2011, Drake took a graduate research class in theater at Ohio State from Beth Kattelman, an assistant professor of theater and libraries. Kattelman assigned the class a project in which they had to use an object relating to Shakespeare from a theater research institute.

“The object I found was the 1790 script of Jean-Francois Ducis’ ‘Macbeth.’ I was very intrigued by the production because it’s so different from Shakespeare’s work,” Drake said. “I wanted to explore why that was and found out that he wanted to introduce Shakespeare to the French stage.”

The 1790 script by Ducis is on display in the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library as part of the Shakespeare exhibition. Ducis was a successful French playwright during the 18th century and introduced Shakespeare to many countries, such as Spain, Italy and Argentina, Drake said.

During the time Ducis was translating plays, Shakespeare was relatively unknown to the French audience and was often considered vulgar, Drake said. Ducis translated “Macbeth” in a way that could be understood and appreciated by the French audience.

“I was very curious about what it would look like staged, so it started this whole project which is coming together as a production,” Drake said.

Thomas Shafer, who will play Macbeth, said this version provides a different outlook on Shakespeare’s work.

The production will be performed as a stage reading, and actors will wear all-black clothing instead of elaborate costumes.

“We’re doing a staged reading rather than a fully produced play, so we can focus on the dialogue and add in some movements to reinforce the words,” Drake said.

In Ducis’ adaptation of the play, the original character of Lady Macbeth is referred to as Frédégonde.

“Even though I think Lady Macbeth is a very strong character in the Shakespeare version, I think her role is even more obvious and striking in this part,” said Leslie Robinson, who will play Frédégonde. “She’s such a strong, ambitious and evil character, which is always fun to play.”

This adaptation has not been performed in modern times, and the audience will get a different experience out of this than traditional Shakespeare pieces, Robinson said.

“Thinking of it as something that’s a diversion while maintaining the essence of Shakespeare is what we’re going far,” Drake said.

Drake said she feared the play might seem “talky” to some audience members, so to offset that, she added in some magical elements, illusions and movement to bring the production together.

Admission to the event is in the form of donations, which will be used to cover the costs of the theater.

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