Villanova Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s MACBETH

by Patricia Bradford

VILLANOVA, PA – Professor Emeritus and Former Theatre Department Chair James J. Christy returns to Villanova Theatre to direct a cast of fourteen in a re-imagined production of Shakespeare’s haunting thriller, MACBETH, on stage November 10–22, 2015.

Shakespeare’s masterpiece of manipulation, murder, and mayhem has put audiences under a spell for centuries with its intoxicating blend of thrills, chills, and profound insight into the depths of the human psyche. When three witches predict Macbeth’s ascension to the throne, he and his scheming wife start slashing their bloody path to power, armed with violence, deception, and ruthless ambition. But Fate wields a cruel and inevitable blow to the diabolical duo as betrayal is repaid with an uprising of epic proportions. The Bard’s most electrifying tragedy boils over with spine-tingling tension, hair-raising encounters with the supernatural, and a chilling, unforgettable conclusion.

Foregoing a conventional “costume drama” approach, Christy’s dynamic vision incorporates a modern aesthetic while emphasizing the psychological forces at play in this fraught and churning drama. Brutalism reigns supreme on a stark and barren set that evokes the solitary confinement of Macbeth’s tortured mind. Christy’s gritty re-telling of this classic tale tackles the question – “What does evil look like in today’s world?” Macbeth promises to take audiences on a roller coaster ride fueled by muscular storytelling, visceral physicality, and sheer horror that make this the perfect show for Halloween crowds.

While Shakespearean scholars, theatre artists, and enthusiasts argue over the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s commission of modern English translations of Shakespeare’s plays (New York Times), Villanova’s production seeks to make Shakespeare’s text vividly accessible to all without sacrificing the original language. Through his own action-packed cutting of the script, Christy invites audiences to grapple with the twists and turns of the guilt-ridden mind as Macbeth sinks slowly into madness. According to dramaturg Amanda Coffin, “Jim has distilled the text to its most essential elements, streamlining the plot and adding resonance to Shakespeare’s profound imagery by utilizing choral storytelling.”

Second-year graduate students Kyle Fennie and Meghan Trelease, a real-life couple, play the ambitious Macbeths. Fennie (a graduate of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and a trained actor-combatant) and Trelease (a professional dancer, choreographer and director) met over five years ago. They were last seen on stage together in Villanova’s 2014 production of Bertolt Brecht’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA. While the on stage couple plots regicide, the off stage couple plans for happier events — their upcoming nuptials, after their recent engagement.

Returning to lead this ensemble of talented Villanova students is veteran director, Philadelphia Theatre Company co-founder, and former Villanova Theatre Department Chair, James J. Christy. In addition to directing over twenty Shakespeare productions around the country, Christy steered Villanova’s Summer Shakespeare Festival for ten years. Long-time Villanova patrons will recall Jim “Mud and Blood” Christy’s expertise in illuminating Shakespeare’s text for a modern audience, through many memorable productions of the Bard’s greatests works. The multiple Barrymore Award-winner (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005) aims to emphasize the psychological while “finding the impish and dark humor” in the current production.

In a play that questions what it means to be a man and woman in Jacobean England, Christy re-examines this theme in a gender-bent production comprised of seven male and seven female actors. According to Christy, “Re-assigning male roles to female actors [and vice versa] re-frames the issues of gender in this traditionally testosterone-heavy play.”

An expert team of award-winning designers joins Christy in summoning the aesthetic elements that make this a “vivid, fast-moving, ferocious” play (Daily News). Susan Schaeffer’s costumes comprise a collection of eclectic garments as distressed as the tormented characters that wear them. Daniel Boylen designs a dynamic set to carve out a cold and rough mechanized playing space. Lighting designer Jerold Forsyth and Sound Designer John Stovicek complete this exciting team of artists to conjure light, shadows and haunting undertones. Fight Choreographer John Bellomo and Movement Choreographer Valerie Joyce collaborate with Christy to create the brutal, unrelenting, and athletic swarm of battle.

Christy directs a talented ensemble who will energize this epic thriller: second-year acting scholar Kyle Fennie (Macbeth) and second-year graduate student Meghan Trelease (Lady Macbeth) are supported by second-year acting scholar Stephen Tornetta, second-year graduate students Rebecca Jane Cureton, Elise D’Avella, Jessica Otterbine, and Alix Rosenfeld; as well as first-year acting scholars Dan Cullen and Chris Monaco; first-year graduate students Patrick McAndrew, Elizabeth Meisenzahl, and Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez; recent Villanova MA alumnus, John K. Baxter, and Villanova junior Luke Hensley.

Speaker’s Night immediately following the November 19 performance will feature the Theatre Department’s newest faculty member, Dr. Chelsea Phillips, a dramaturg and Shakespearean scholar who will join the director, cast, and crew for a lively post-show discussion. (See full biographical information below).

Macbeth runs at Villanova Theatre from November 10th-22nd, 2015. Villanova Theatre is located on the Villanova University campus in Vasey Hall (at Lancaster & Ithan Aves.). Performances will be held Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets run $21-$25, with discounts available for seniors, students, M.A. in Theatre alumni, and groups. Tickets may be purchased at the Villanova Theatre Box Office (M-S, 12 -5 p.m.) in person, by phone: (610) 519-7474, or online at

Jim Christy is touched to be returning to Villanova Theatre for the first time since his retirement from the Theatre Department eight years ago. He was a professor here for thirty-nine years and the bulk of his creative work took place on the Vasey Stage, from the premiere of David Rabe’s Bones in 1969 (which went on to win a Tony Award as Sticks and Bones) to the the summer theatre he ran during his thirteen-year tenure as chair, from specially loved productions such as Woyzeck and an undergrad production of Taming of the Shrew (with a senior named Peter Donohue), to the multiple Barrymore Award-winning collaboration with Harriet Power on both parts of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. He has directed professionally in Philadelphia and at Shakespeare festivals around the country. In 2005, he was honored with Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for Lifetime Achievement, a real highlight of his longtime career as a director and educator in Philadelphia.

A professional dramaturg and theatre historian, Dr. Chelsea Phillips recently completed her doctorate in Theatre at The Ohio State University and also holds an MFA in Dramaturgy from Mary Baldwin College. Her research focuses on celebrity pregnancy on the eighteenth-century British stage. She is an associate director for the International Perceptions of Pregnancy Researcher’s Network. Her paper “’Unsex me Here:’ Bodies and Femininity in the Performance History of Lady Macbeth” was recently published in the journal Testi e Linguaggi (University of Salerno).

Villanova Theatre is a community of artist-scholars committed to transforming hearts and minds through the visionary production of classical, modern, and contemporary dramatic literature. Our work is fueled by the imaginative striving common to Villanova’s accomplished faculty, versatile staff, and energetic graduate students. Together, we are devoted to creating a vibrant theatre enriched by and overflowing with the ideas explored in our classrooms. In all of our endeavors, we aim to share the dynamic experience of collaborative learning with our audiences in order to engage the intellect and stir the soul. As a facet of Villanova University, Villanova Theatre serves the campus community as well as thousands of theatre-goers from the Main Line and the Greater Philadelphia area.

Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University’s six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. 

Theater/Organization Villanova Theatre
Theater/Organization Website:

Theater/Organization Address: Vasey Hall 800 Lancaster Avenue Villanova, Pennsylvania 19085 (Map It)
Theater/Organization Phone: (610) 519-7474

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