Like many who haven’t been to Detroit in awhile, Aja Salakastar Dier is amazed at how much the city has changed since she moved away six years ago. But the actress found a truly singular new professional opportunity upon returning home this year: performing Shakespeare outdoors with a professional company in the heart of the city.
“I think that’s just the coolest thing,” Dier says. “I don’t remember anything like that when I was growing up here.”
Dier plays Lady Macduff in Shakespeare In Detroit’s free production of “Macbeth,” which runs through Sunday in New Center Park. Shakespeare In Detroit, founded in 2013, aims to present the Bard’s work in unconventional spaces around the city — often in free outdoor shows, as with “Macbeth.”
“Macbeth” director D.B. Schroeder says his main challenge is to make the famous tragedy about a general’s disastrous ambitions accessible to a broad cross-section of audiences.
“Oftentimes, we’re going to be introducing people to Shakespeare for the first time, or in some cases perhaps their first time attending a live play,” Schroeder says. “You need something that’s approachable, that’s not going to seem elitist or beyond someone’s understanding, but at the same time those familiar with the story are going to want to see a unique perspective.”
One key element of Schroeder’s unique spin on the play should be immediately apparent to “Macbeth” scholars and neophytes. The three actresses who portray the famous prophesizing witches also portray Lady Macbeth and the traditionally male roles of Macduff and Duncan. Schroeder explains that he wanted to show Macbeth hemmed in by both the “supernatural world” of the witches and the “world of reality.” The latter is represented by Duncan, the king who Macbeth murders; Lady Macbeth, who urges Macbeth to do the deed; and Macduff, who sets out to avenge the killing.
“Having the same actors double in those roles, I feel, underscores that point of Macbeth being caught in the center of his actions,” Schroeder says. “It’s like he’s caught in the web of his ambition.”
Schroeder says audiences will quickly forget the novelty of the casting and “buy in” to the performances of Vanessa Sawson and Dominique Lowell, the two actresses playing key male roles. Sawson, who says she’s typically cast as “funny or brash” characters, has enjoyed the challenge of Macduff not so much for the gender swap but for the character’s straight-arrow nobility. And she says she’s enthused about having the opportunity to sword fight — “like any other bad ass would want to.”
“The little boy in me is pretty excited about it,” Sawson says.
The production’s unique venue is one challenge the entire cast will share, facing the possibility of fighting rain or wind and the certainty of having to project over the noise of Grand Boulevard traffic. Schroeder and Dier express readiness for the situation, but Sawson takes it one step further. Shakespeare, she says, was “meant to have no roofs or walls.”
“It just feels right to me,” Sawson says. “There’s something monstrous about the universe. We’re just these little specks, you know? Why not put it out there and be larger than life with nature?”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
New Center Park
2990 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit