Sarah England's opening turn feels just right. She's one witch for three, huddled over a trashcan lit from below that sporadically spouts CO2 smoke. Her cutting voice and spooky moves make you understand that she believes, really believes that there’s dark magic at work here.
This belief is the underpinning of the Austin Drama Club, an almost inexplicable group of devotees to the dark art of theatre, intent on pondering many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
Or not so forgotten. ADC is in its fourth season under Japhy Fernandes' leadership. Now in their quasi-hideout on East 7th St. between the Texas State Cemetery and Huston-Tillotson University, they are well into a twelve-play season for 2010, both Shakespeare and not. This production of Macbeth is their first of eight major works by Shakespeare. No other theatre in town has a schedule that comes even close to that level of challenge and commitment.
An evening with the ADC is an eerie and sometimes confusing experience. They run their productions Thursdays-Saturdays, three weekends per month, in a frame house stocked with a miscellany of chairs arranged in makeshift multiple-level seating. It's dark in there. The house seats up to 35, but I haven't seen more than about 20. This is a word-of-mouth world. The ADC core is willing to share their experience only with those who are really, really interested in seeking them out.
After puzzling at this, I've begun to think that they don’t really need an audience. They're pleased to have you there, but they're not hustling to have you, other than putting up a few homemade posters and, now, passing along some information to an Austin theatre website. No one is hawking soft drinks or wine in return for a "suggested contribution," and they don't do much to point out the tip jar in the entry behind the kitchen. Company members must be getting their charge from the texts, and from the comradeship of rehearsals and performances.
Their approach is respectful but not reverent. Last fall, director Julio Mella set his Richard III in a Warner Brothers' gangster world. Japhy Fernandes sets their current Macbeth in a vaguely contemporary time in which Scottish lords carry golf clubs and automatic pistols. Tartans and chequered sweaters are much in evidence. Fernandes cuts the text both to the measure of the ten-person company and in order to speed the delivery, while retaining the essential elements and conventional interpretations of the characters.
As in any self-identified group of fanatics, there's a range of abilities. Fernandes as Macbeth has good command of his Shakespeare and his character. Russell Shugart as Macduff is solid, well spoken, appropriately indignant and heroic. Christopher Harris is lean and mean in the ensemble, as Ross, as a murderer and as the Porter. Java as the hapless Banquo scarcely escapes from cartoon cliché, for whenever he's pensive he rubs his chin in doleful reflection, and when he's surprised, he throws up his hands and his mouth goes to a silent "O!" This is just what Hamlet warned his players against. India Raney gets into the role of Lady Macbeth with girlish glee rather than ambition or gravitas.
Young Thatcher Fernandes and his mom, Ellen, are effective as Macduff's doomed family. Despite his tender age and slight frame, Thatcher does an impressive hobgobliny turn as the crook-backed witch Hecate.
The Austin Drama Club is testimony that someone, somewhere, will always be doing Shakespeare's work. Their next invocation will be of Richard III, in April. Now it’s up to you to sleuth them out.