Remaking Macbeth

A Capital Fringe Festival production adds martial arts and male witches to Shakespeare’s classic, and gives a young actor an opportunity.

When Alex Mandell travelled around Europe last semester, he saw street performances of capoeira in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, and Barcelona—all of which turned out to be training for his appearance as one of the witches in Macbeth. Mandell stars in an unconventional version of the play—incorporating Brazilian folk dance and martial arts—that will finish its run at DC’s fifth annual Capital Fringe Festival this weekend.

While traveling through Europe, Mandell learned his lines and taught himself capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian style of martial arts that combines dance with ritualized sparring. “It was definitely difficult in a youth hostel to be practicing capoeira in the corner,” he says.

“It’s incredible how physical it is and how athletic our performances are,” he says. Long bamboo sticks are among the only props on the stage. Capoeira is an integral part of the play, as it fits in with the topics of temptation, greed, and violence. “It’s the perfect physical expression of what drives these characters to do the things they do,” Mandell says. He dives into these themes in his dual portrayals as a murderer and a witch—a role that usually goes to a woman.

At 21, Mandell is the youngest member of the cast. He is an acting major at Boston University with one year left in school. He worked with the same director, Jessica Aimone, last year in Shakespeare’s R & J, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet featuring four schoolboys.

As is Fringe custom, latecomers aren’t seated for the play. But on the opening night of Macbeth, a tardy middle-aged man broke into the venue after being denied entrance to the sold-out show. After the play, he was charged $150 for the door.

“If anything, it generated a lot of buzz for us,” Mandell says. “People are ripping the door literally off the hinges to see our show.”

If you miss it, the production will travel to McLean’s 1st Stage Theater (1524 Spring Hill Rd.; 703-854-1856) for an extended six-performance run in August.

Tickets available here. Saturday at 7 PM, Sunday, 9:30 PM.

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