Review: 'Macbeth' in Tlingit at NMAI theater

"The Southeastern Alaskan language Tlingit -- pronounced "klinkit" -- isn't especially full of sound and fury in the "Macbeth" of Juneau's Perseverance Theatre. But that's because in this production, which has been carefully imbued with Tlingit symmetry and ceremony by director Anita Maynard-Losh, the most bloody-minded speeches are rendered in English.

A political indictment of murderous ambition as a white man's game? That's seems like a reasonable conclusion as Jake Waid's Macbeth smoothly speaks Tlingit to his brethren, then turns to the audience and confides in English, "Stars, hide your fires; let not night light see my black and deep desires."

Yet it's not overt politics so much as two-faced secrecy that seems to be the issue in this faintly studious show, which fits beautifully inside the round Rasmuson Theater at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. (Pinpoint starlight even glows from the ceiling that undulates over the audience.) Shiftiness is hard-wired to this easy-to-follow bilingual format. Keep an eye on the convenient English surtitles of Johnny Marks's Tlingit translation for most of the cast, then get the straight hard plots and paranoia in English from the scheming couple.

It's nicely conceived but not very powerful. Shakespeare's play overflows with emotional turbulence, but the acting is seldom intriguing or complicated. Some of this is indeed a matter of translation, since many (if not all) of the actors apparently had to learn Tlingit for this show.

But the English sounds as stately and straightforward as the Tlingit, leaving a lot of the play's inflated personality and supernaturalism oddly flat. Waid doesn't seem deeply troubled by Macbeth's deadly rationalizations and second-guessing, and Ekatrina Oleksa/Arrsamguq's rallying speeches as Lady Macbeth are similarly earnest and simple. You get the gist of the play, but not the juice."

Get the Story:
'Macbeth,' North by Northwest (The Washington Post 3/12)

Relevant Links:
National Museum of the American Indian -

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