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Michigan Shakespeare Festival is back for the summer with 'Macbeth' and more

 Character headshot of David Blixt as Macbeth in side profile with smoke effects.
Courtesy
/
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
David Blixt stars in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival production of Macbeth.

Updated July 24, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. ET

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival is returning for the summer, starting this week.

The festival opens on Tuesday with The Tragedy of Macbeth. Artistic director Janice Blixt says last year’s main selection Henry V showed off all the attributes that make for an excellent leader. Macbeth, she says, is the opposite.

The festival last staged Macbeth in 2007, and Blixt says it belongs in the regular rotation of any Shakespeare company. She calls the play one of the best tragedies to watch for people who haven’t seen a lot of Shakespeare.

When people ask me "Oh, am I going to understand the plays this year if I come? Am I going to get what’s going on?" My answer always with Macbeth is yes.

“It is a very clear play,” she explained. “It doesn’t have subplots. It doesn’t have secondary story lines. It only runs two and a half hours with intermission. When people ask me ‘Oh, am I going to understand the plays this year if I come? Am I going to get what’s going on?’ My answer always with Macbeth is yes, yes, you will.”

Her husband, David Blixt, is playing Macbeth. Janice says the veteran actor not only can convincingly portray the character’s transition from beloved leader to insane tyrant, but he’s good with a broadsword, too.

The festival follows a tradition of pairing a universally-known Shakespeare title with one of his less commonly staged plays.

This year, it’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Not well-known or often produced now, Blixt says Pericles was more frequently seen in the 19th century. In its original form, a production could easily run past four hours, so there have been extensive cuts.

“It is the story of the young prince of Tyre as he has gone into the world to try and find the love of his life, and through the course of being shipwrecked in one place and getting lost in another, he finally finds the love of his life, which is wonderful," Blixt said. "And then, he loses her.”

The second half of Pericles, Prince of Tyre follows the life of his daughter, raised by friends because of his heartbreak. Blixt describes the play as sweet and funny with goofy side characters.

A Flea In Her Ear by Georges Feydeau is the festival’s non-Shakespeare play being staged this season.

Blixt says the French playwright’s early works were epic dramas that weren’t well received, so he turned to comedy for Flea. She compares it to a modern American television sitcom, even though it’s set in Paris in the year 1907.

“Someone misunderstood something someone else did, and they weren’t able to talk about it because that might be embarrassing, and suddenly we’re off into zanyland, meeting crazy side characters and everyone’s doing goofy stuff," she said.

"It literally is a long episode of Frasier in its own way.”

While the festival is an exciting time for the company, Blixt is also sounding the alarm about the struggles of professional theatres around the country. She says many benefactors and patrons have yet to return since the pandemic, and a number of theatres have closed.

If you are someone who believes that live professional theatre is good for your community, it is good for your arts programs in your school, if you think that it is something that is worth keeping, find one near you.

“If you are someone who believes that live professional theatre is good for your community, it is good for your arts programs in your school, if you think that it is something that is worth keeping, find one near you.” Blixt said.

“I would prefer it be the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, but find one near you, and see what you can do to support them.”

Blixt is encouraging attendance at preview performances. While a show isn’t officially set until opening night, previews are staged to use initial audience reactions and comments to make minor changes to improve the final product.

A preview performance of Macbeth opens the Michigan Shakespeare Festival at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Village Theatre at Cherry Hill in Canton. The season runs through August 20.

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival is a financial supporter of WKAR.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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