Macbeth as a 20th century gangster might be a horrifying thought to a Shakespearean purist, but the Kamiakin High School drama department has taken the classic play and given it a mobster spin to reach a younger audience.
The play opens Feb. 7 in the school's auditorium at 600 N. Arthur St., Kennewick.
"Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as a thane who eventually murdered the king to become king," said Caeleigh Rieger, 17, who shares the role of Lady Macbeth with Lauren Meacham, 18. "The way we portray it is as if Macbeth started as a Mafia underboss who murders his mob boss to become the new mob boss.
"The wives go from wives of thanes to wives of Mafia members. And instead of swords, our characters use knives and guns."
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The cast hopes setting a Godfather theme to Macbeth will introduce Shakespeare to younger audiences. But even though mobster Macbeth will be wearing a suit and spats and packing heat, the Shakespearean dialogue will remain the same.
Director Chris Hamilton said he chose Macbeth for the school's winter show because he knew it would be challenging for his students.
"I have a great appreciation for Shakespeare and wanted to show my students that despite the difficult language, it would still be compelling and entertaining," he said.
Britt Henderson, 17, plays Macbeth, and he's no stranger to anything Shakespearean.
"My family goes to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival every year," he said. "As a result, I've been exposed to (most) of his plays and have grown better at understanding his style of speech."
Reiger said Lady Macbeth is a complicated character and a real challenge to play."She can be manipulative, ridiculously hospitable, belittling or legitimately insane. But it's been incredibly rewarding as an actor," she said.
Meacham agreed, saying playing Lady Macbeth is a challenge along with conquering the language of the 1600s.
The two are sharing the role because Hamilton thought each did equally well at auditions, Meacham said.
Hamilton said taking Macbeth out of the Elizabethan era and into the roaring '20s when mobsters ruled would be a good fit for the play.
"I felt it would be very appropriate for the story and fun for the students to portray," he said. "The subject matter may be heavy, but the Mafia angle makes the plot a bit more fun and exciting."
He said high school kids are interested in Shakespeare.
"There is an unfair stigma often associated with Shakespeare that the language is too difficult and the stories are inaccessible for teenagers," Hamilton said. "Some were hesitant at first, but I believe the entire cast now thoroughly enjoys the play."
But Hamilton and his student actors don't refer to the play as Macbeth.
"The most difficult part of putting on this show is probably overcoming the curse," he said. "This play has a reputation as being a cursed show to the point that it is considered bad luck to say the title in any theater."
To ward off the curse, the cast and crew refer to the play as The Scottish Play and the lead actor as Mackers or Mr. M when inside Kamiakin's auditorium.
Curtain time is 7 p.m. Feb. 7, 13-14 with a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 8. Admission is $10 adults, $7 students and seniors.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal