The Sacred and the Profane

APP Press
Alex Biese - January 30, 2014

Something beautifully wicked is brewing in, of all places, Manhattan's Lower East Side. Director Julia Campanelli and her Shelter Theatre Group are staging William Shakespeare’s dark classic “Macbeth” at the Church of Saint Teresa at Rutgers and Henry Streets, through Thursday, Jan. 30.

From the opening with the play’s Weird Sisters — the bewitching trio of Kelly Bartnik, Theresa McElwee and Susannah Hoffman — lighting candles on the church’s altar and swinging incense, Campanelli and her players art- fully blend the text with the chosen location of this staging, a still-active Roman Catholic church.

And while the deadly conflict on display here wouldn’t have be out of place in certain passages of the Old Testament, to see Shakespeare’s masterwork of sex and violence staged on a church altar is a wholly unique thrill, a divine marriage of the sacred and the profane.

But, aside from the setting, what sets Campanelli’s “Macbeth” apart is how willing she and her players are to just get down to business. There’s no mucking about, not even any flowing blood; the players dive into the work and let the words, in a big way, speak for themselves.

Campanelli and several cast members — including Bartnik, Careena Melia, Rob Najarian and Sai Somboon — previously performed in “Sleep No More,” a mostly dialogue- free reinterpretation of “Macbeth” that’s been a New York City hit for years now, and for long- time fans of that show it’s a thrill to see these actors return to the text that started it all.

Melia, in particular, shines in her work as Lady Macbeth. From her introductory scene, with its famed “Come you spirits” monologue that takes on a whole new dimension in this sacred setting, Melia makes the part her own. She finds the deep humanity behind the character’s resolve and ambition. She’s captivating and powerful, but most importantly, she makes it all feel real.

Across the board the cast delivers. In the title role of the Scottish lord on a murderous quest to attain and maintain the throne, “Boardwalk Empire’s” Tim Eliot delivers intelligence and dark humor, while Annie Paul strikes decidedly different and equally-effective notes as both the comic relief role of the Porter and the doomed Lady Macduff.

The production, which was partially funded through money raised on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, has a D.I.Y., nearly guerrilla- style aesthetic that serves as an effective counter- point to the ornateness of the church, which was established in 1863, and the show is fueled by a live percussive score per- formed by Kazuki Kozuru-Salifoska.

“Macbeth” is nearly ubiquitous these days — along with “Sleep No More,” there have been recent productions star- ring Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh and Alan Cumming, plus a film starring Michael Fassbender on the way — but Campanelli’s take holds its own. It’s a gripping, down-to-earth and all too human telling of this timeless tale.

A Guinea Pig's Night at the Theatre

New York Times
Dave Itzkoff, May 22, 2012

Even when it is not executed perfectly, theater can stir a range of feelings, from boundless elation to existential despair. On rare occasions, it can even impart blinding pain, as an overly tight mask presses your glasses into your face, setting off sensitive nerve endings you did not know you possessed.
I learned this on Thursday night as I wandered the corridors of “Sleep No More,” the site-specific theater event presented in a labyrinthine Chelsea warehouse. Created by the British company Punchdrunk, “Sleep No More” lets masked attendees follow, with eyes, ears, hands and feet, an open-ended tale that mashes up “Macbeth” with elements of Hitchcock films like “Rebecca” and “Vertigo.”

Read the full article

The Freakily Immersive Experience of Sleep No More

New York Magazine Theatre Review
by Scott Brown

What in Hecate’s name is Sleep No More? A dance-theater horror show? A wordless, nonlinear mash-up of Macbeth and the darker psychosexual corners of Hitchcock? A six-story Jazz Age haunted house for grown-ups and anyone who’s ever entertained sick cineast-y fantasies of living inside a Kubrick movie?
 ’Tis all these, and more besides: a deed without a name, to quote an infernal authority. (Also: ’tis sold-out, but set to extend, so get your trigger finger ready.) 

The UK’s Punchdrunk theater collective — famed for these sorts of immersive, site-specific experiments back on their native sod — has finally brought Sleep to the city that never does, and now, most certainly, won’t: The show infects your dreams.  

Sleep allows its “guests” great freedom. Presented with a bone-white Venetian beak mask (the kind favored by plague doctors in the Renaissance), you’re invited to gawk, shame-free, at whatever you see, to rifle through drawers, files, Rolodexes, and even coffins. You and your fellow voyeurs, enskulled in your morbid headgear, quickly become part of the creepy scenery. More to the point, you’re a ghost. (N.B.: This doesn’t exempt you from actor contact — in fact, you’re practically guaranteed to be interfered with at some point in the approximately three hours it takes to survey the space and absorb the long arc of the story.) Fending for yourself in the fictional “McKittrick Hotel” (a pointed Vertigo reference that dizzy or claustrophobic types should take to heart before booking), you’re given the run of six misty, intricately detailed floors, with more than 100 rooms full of (and this is a partial list) clues, red herrings, hair samples, teeth scattered like gaming dice, magic spells, animal bones in carefully labeled bins, a mass of old-fashioned desk fans that turn on and off at random, rotary-dial phones that have actual dial tones, grisly private eye photos of corpses, bloodstains that appear and disappear, patchy ad hoc taxidermy posed for maximal menace, and a ballroom stalked by moving trees. And all the while, you’re carried on perfectly modulated aural swells of Bernard Herrmann pastiche, courtesy of sound designer Stephen Dobbie.

Along the way, you’re guaranteed to stumble on what Punchdrunk’s directors, designers, and choreographers (Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle, Livi Vaughan, and Beatrice Minns) refer to as “situations”: a man who may or may not be Duncan, right king of Scotland, being murdered in a sheikh’s tent. A gelid blonde who may or may not be Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca — here in loyal service to Lady Macbeth — spooning milky poison down the gullet of a soused, super-pregnant woman who very well might be Lady Macduff. The presumed Lady Macbeth herself is poised above her bloody bathtub, or climbing a mountain of antique furniture like a rabid ape. (Maxine Doyle’s wall-crawling choreography — two parts parkour to one part The Fly — helps the actors doff their humanity with ease; their sexuality, however, remains fixatingly intact.) And then there’s Macbeth himself, conjuring the Weird Sisters in a strobe-lit demon disco. “If it’s all too much,” a docent tells you at the beginning, “there’s always the bar.” I made use of it.

The show’s influences spider far beyond the Bard and Hitch: Players of puzzle-horror first person video games like BioShock will find the Sleep experience highly gratifying (and the notion of becoming a camera highly familiar). The amateur cryptographers of Lost will be be similarly pleased, as will the Escherheads who fetishized Inception. “Did I do it right?” I wondered afterward, having realized I’d missed half the plot points my fellow travelers had stumbled upon — and they’d, in turn, missed half the things I’d seen. Upon reflection, though, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. (If you’re interested in a strong story, though, I’d recommend you follow a specific actor, especially when someone plunges out of a room with purpose.) But this is the nonsense math of nightmares, a perfect Chinese box that invites you to look for solutions that seem designed, never to come fully into focus. I’d recommend a quick skim of Macbeth if you’re really interested in the whodunit aspect; full enjoyment of the atmospherics, though, requires no cramming whatsoever.

I’ve felt theater overwhelm me before, but until last Tuesday, I’ve never felt it pass through me. At the end of my story, a witch-queen in a red dress found me rifling through her study, held out her hand, and whisked me down to the ballroom, just in time for the climactic execution. It was a lovely evening in hell, one I’ll be recovering from for some time. 

VARIETY : Theatre Review
Romeo and Juliet

JULY 16, 2002 | 04:14PM PT
Julio Martinez

Aside from a show-opening introduction of the upscale costumed players arriving at what appears to be a glitzy paparazzi fest, this production of "Romeo and Juliet" immediately settles into a fairly traditional rendering of the star-crossed mating of oh-so-earnest Romeo (Maulik Pancholy) and his ravenously smitten Juliet (Careena Melia).