There's no mistaking how the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane University frames Macbeth as a production in an 1830s-era New Orleans gaslight theater. Thespians and rabble-rousers — some carrying muskets — cavort around the stage as the audience files into the theater, and there's one exhortation about raising a volunteer army to help Texas with its rebellion against Mexico.
When Macbeth proper starts, it's with the three "weird sisters" (Emilie Whelan, Rebecca Frank and Tori Gural), or witches, who seem like timeless members of New Orleans' bohemian class, in both dress and quirky darkness. When they conjure magic to forecast Macbeth's future, the ingredient list of dog tongue, toads and other reptilian items almost comes off like a recipe for a gumbo of the doomed. It's no spoiler to mention everyone in the play is cursed, and the witchy sisters add some entertaining distractions and dramatic effects. Shakespeare's bawdy riff on alcohol increasing romantic desire while decreasing performance also is a funny moment, here delivered by Martin Covert as the Porter in an eerily pre-vaudevillian comic mode.
While the New Orleans context incorporates tarot cards and some voodoo-esque accoutrements at the side of the stage, most of the play and costumes are straightforward, characterizing the medieval power struggle with a small flourish of robes, broadswords and an armored breastplate. There are many strong performances. Ashley Nolan was impassioned as Lady Macbeth, both a catalyst and co-conspirator with her husband to ascend the throne through murder. Drew Battles was forceful as the valorous and commanding Macbeth, but he took a while to warm up to the full range of emotion and psychological weight Shakespeare's tragedy assigns him in long solo stints contemplating his actions. In contrast, Michael Aaron Santos was more emotive and compelling as the aggrieved and vengeful Macduff. Other notable performances include A.J. Allegra's Malcolm. The large cast delivered a more vigorous than ponderous version of the play, and the extra flourishes were very entertaining. — Will Coviello
Through July 11
7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 1:30 p.m. Sun.
New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, Dixon Hall, 865-5106;