Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s all-Black ‘Macbeth’ hits historic ruins of Ellicott City

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews CSC's all-Black 'Macbeth' (Part 1)

Forget “something wicked this way comes.” Something revolutionary this way comes. This is no “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This is a tale told by a talented theater, full of sound and visual splendor, signifying diversity.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company wraps its 20th season this summer as its Black Classical Acting Ensemble performs Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” outdoors in Howard County, Maryland, from June 16 to July 23.

“The Black Classic Acting Ensemble was founded in 2021,” actress Dawn Thomas Reidy told WTOP. “Essentially we started getting together during lockdown, during the pandemic. Our first meetings were virtual, then once theater started opening up again … we were able to get together and we hosted readings. … Around that time, we started to consider what ‘Macbeth’ would look like, sound like with an all-Black cast?”

The fresh performances will be held outdoors at the historic ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, where it’s been performing for 19 years.

“It’s a gorgeous space at the top of this hill,” Reidy said. “If you’re familiar with old Ellicott City, if you go up the hill past the newer courthouse, even further up is where this all-girls school was. The walls remain, there are no ceilings left of the building, but it’s this beautiful stone, there are these columns there, lots of grass and open space. It’s a really fantastic venue.”

In case you haven’t read Shakespeare’s 1606 play in a while, the story follows Macbeth, a Scottish lord and general, who is convinced by a trio of witches that he will soon become the next king of Scotland, aided by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, who helps him strategize a power grab to kill King Duncan.

“What I find interesting about the play is that even though Macbeth receives this prophecy, he still has a moral dilemma,” Reidy said. “You’ll hear a lot of ‘should he do it, should he not,’ this kind of betrayal of someone who’s been not just kind but given him all kinds of accolades and honors. Obviously they end up doing it, and the rest of the play is them experiencing the guilt, shame and grief even for what they’ve done.”

While Reidy gets to deliver the iconic line “Out, damned spot” as Lady Macbeth plunges into insanity, her co-star DeJeanette “DJ” Horne gets iconic lines as Macbeth, from “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?” to “Out, out, brief candle.”

“DJ has immense amounts of swag,” Reidy said. “He just has a presence, a stateliness and a beautiful voice. He just has a majestic presence. Some actors your eyes are just drawn to on stage and he is one of them. He is also one of the kindest, warmest folks I’ve ever met, so he brings this humanity to Macbeth. Part of our challenge as actors is to not always think of villains as villains, so he is bringing a human-ness to Macbeth.”

Director Lauren Davis uses the set to symbolically stage the actors to show their shifting power dynamic.

“There is an actual set and it has several levels,” Davis told WTOP. “It’s really beautiful how it’s designed. It allows us to see Macbeth’s fall from grace. It starts out with some of the staging, we have Duncan on the highest level, and we see Macbeth after he commits this terrible murder kind of descend all of these stairs and he lands at the bottom with his wife. He’s shocked and dazed. The set really allows us to play with levels.”

The ensemble previously staged its all-Black “Macbeth” for Baltimore City students last fall.

“It was really a beautiful thing to see our students in Baltimore City, who are primarily Black and brown students, come see this show and come see themselves represented on stage but speaking this classical text,” Reidy said. “That is something very special and I’m very honored to be a part of it.”

Admission is free for kids with plenty of extra activities beyond the Shakespeare tragedy.

“Bring your picnic blankets,” Reidy said. “If you want to bring food you can do that. We also have a food truck out there that’s available for our audience. At intermission, they have a table set up for kids if they want to do coloring or crafts or things like that. There’s a little puppet show that’s put on to help entertain kids, too.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews CSC's all-Black 'Macbeth' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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