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Southwest Shakespeare in Mesa: Something wickedly fascinating has this way come

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Southwest Shakespeare Company's Winterfest 2014 - 'Macbeth' & 'The Taming of the Shrew'

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For the second consecutive year, Southwest Shakespeare has brought their Winterfest Repertory to Mesa Arts Center. This year, the professional, classical theatre company is featuring unforgettable productions of 'Macbeth' and 'The Taming of the Shrew.' Opening weekend, leading ladies Tina Mitchell (Lady Macbeth) and Trisha Miller (Katharina, the Shrew) sat down to talk about the tantalizing shows over a slice of pizza Sunday night.

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"Powerful. Invigorating," said Mitchell.

"Visceral. Primal," said Miller.

Each actress was referring to how director Sabin Epstein's set and his concepts contributed as they prepared their roles. Shakespeare tragedy and comedy. Both set in a boxing ring. Hard to believe, but the result is sublimely effective.

"We asked ourselves, how are these two plays alike..." Epstein types in his introductory program notes. 'Macbeth,' wherein murder and insanity prevail while laughter and levity are absent. 'Shrew,' in which saucy banter buoys rampant sarcasm, physical humor and bawdy hilarity.

Epstein's focus was on helping the audience "see the links and parallels uniting both stories," even as each solidly rests in "its own separate, complete universe." And it works. Within Epstein's combative arenas of warfare, the ladies thrive.

Mitchell's Lady Macbeth, for all her frenzied, greedy, disillusioned fights for power and notoriety, is still tangibly real.

"The risk is to tell yourself to 'play crazy' when you portray such a disturbed character," Mitchell said.
Instead, her choices provide the audience a profoundly sad, desperately struggling woman. One whose madness we understand.

While Miller's Shrew is hurling jocular insults amidst tying her sister to a post or stomping on her wooer's hand, she sustains our empathy.

"I'm putting up walls; the character wraps herself in armor," said Miller. "Kate's not a mean-to-the-core person. She's been hurt. She's resentful."

While Epstein's battle-worn telling of 'Macbeth' is set during World War II, 'Shrew' is to-the-minute contemporary. Complete with a tattooed, biker Petruchio, the comedy's leading man is Kate's masterfully-played suitor (Ross Hellwig).

Wrestling with fate and destiny, the director rhetorically poses, "How do we define ourselves through our personal interactions, negotiating contracts with family, neighbors and, most importantly, our romantic partners?"

Whether it's Macbeth's tortured pleas to the weird, witchy Sisters or Petruchio's schemes to gain respectful love, the plays through Epstein's lens provoke questions we don't often allow ourselves to consider thoughtfully. Shakespeare's timeless, linguistic nuance and priceless wit, too, encourage our introspection.

Miller & Mitchell's well practiced talents and their layered intensity invite us to dig deeply. The shows are beautifully unusual. They run through January 25. They're not confusing or complicated, only brain-bending in the best of mesmerizing ways.

-Jennifer Haaland

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