“Magic and possibility,” Telluride Theatre promises.
Take, for example, the theater company’s popular Midsummer Gala, coming up July 2. The fundraiser, “a secret party with a secret location,” is billed as “One night. One of a kind.”
One table left, the company’s artistic director, Sasha Sullivan, informed this reporter earlier this week.
Make that one seat left, by Thursday afternoon. And then, poof! As fast as you could hit “Refresh” — just like magic — the last seat disappeared.
The Gala had sold out.
The theater company’s rich stream of offerings never let up during the pandemic (though several were livestreamed). Next month, the company’s longest-lived, and most esteemed, offering — the 31st annual production of Shakespeare in the Park — returns to the Town Park stage.
The audience is seated onstage as well, right alongside the actors, surrounded by silhouettes of jagged peaks, and below evening stars.
The setting is intimate, intense and mysterious (this is not some crowded, jubilant Town Park festival). And it does raise the question: why stage a tragedy in this place, given all we’ve weathered over the past year?
“We chose ‘Macbeth’ together, Colin and I,” Sasha Sullivan said. (Colin Sullivan, Sasha’s husband, is Telluride Theatre’s executive director and the play’s director.)
“We’ve done a lot to celebrate and lift spirits with our holiday show,” and another installation in the evolution of stoner dudes “Dude & Bro,” and (for that matter) “High History,” a historically accurate depiction of Telluride’s contribution to (let’s just say) elevated consciousness over the past year. “We really wanted to challenge ourselves, and our audience, with something hard, and big. Dark as it is, there is lightness in this play, and there’s a love story in it” (between the title character and his wife).
There’s music, too: singer-songwriter Emily Scott Robinson “has written five original songs for the witches, who’ll be prominently featured in this performance, to sing.” This performance is not set in Elizabethan England; in fact, none of Telluride Theatre’s productions are. “We really think that performing Shakespeare in doublets” — the short, tightly-fitted men’s jackets associated with the Renaissance — “does not help” the modern imagination to take flight, Sullivan said frankly. “That visual takes people out of the play. When actors are dressed more modern, it makes the play more modern.”
Consumed by political ambition, abetted by a willing spouse, the character Macbeth becomes a killer in this drama. That’s the tragedy. The greatness of this play is that it resonates uncomfortably with the events of today. “It’s an ancient story of power and ambition,” Sullivan said. “That’s what keep Shakespeare’s work alive” and as relevant as ever. “We have an incredible actor in from New York City, Ian Lassiter, to portray Macbeth.” Lassiter not only appeared in “King Lear” on Broadway with Glenda Jackson, he’s an adjunct Shakespeare professor at Fordham University in New York. Cat Lee Covert, who has served as both an actor and choreographer for Telluride Theatre since 2012, will portray Lady Macbeth.
There’s a longstanding superstition in the theater world that this play is cursed, and that saying the word ‘Macbeth’ out loud confers bad luck on a theater troupe. “We’re always so careful to say, MacB, or MacDougal,” Sullivan said. “Colin sent an email to the cast,” in which he pointed out, in essence, “‘We’re performing the play ‘Macbeth.’ We’re honoring the play ‘Macbeth.’ We have to be able to say the word, ‘Macbeth.’”
“So, I’ll perform my own witches’ incantation,” Sullivan said wryly, “to keep everyone else safe.”
And then just like that, our call was over, and Sasha Sullivan was gone.
Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” will be performed by Telluride Theatre on the Town Park stage in mid-July. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit telluridetheatre.org.