For alumna Naomi Buckley (Class of ’00, B.A., theatre arts), necessity has proven to be the mother of invention. The director of this month’s production of “Macbeth” at California State University, Dominguez Hills says that the decision to set the play amid the contemporary drug cartels of Juarez, Mexico, was an economically driven one.
“We have no money to set this in Scotland in 1040,” she notes. “Present time is always cheaper than setting it in a time period, so we tried to think of something in… the present day that was close to the sort of violence and dark themes that ‘Macbeth’ has.”
Buckley drew inspiration for herself and her stage crew from stories on the Internet about the atrocities of the drug lords, particularly the ongoing tale of the Beltran Leyva cartel. She found that recent developments within that organization closely aligned with the action of Shakespeare’s work.
“The head of that cartel [died] and as a result, there’s been a splitting of the cartel,” notes Buckley. “One half of them went with the higher-up general and the other half went with his son.
“I found an article and sent it to Rex [Heuschkel, professor of theatre arts] about how the federales found three bodies that had been hung under a bridge, and on them was pinned a message that said, ‘This is what happens to traitors,’” says Buckley. “I said it fit nicely with what we were talking about, so he ran with it. The set is very abstract, it’s very disjointed, which is appropriate for what we’re doing. Carin [Jacobs, costume designer, Theatre Arts] has come up with great ideas and she’s done a lot of interesting things with the costumes as well.”
Buckley’s cast also has gotten into the spirit of reinterpreting “Macbeth.” Isaac Skye, a senior majoring in theatre arts, plays Josue “El Choco” Macbeth, the play’s lead. He says that the experience has been, “Que bueno.”
“I’m excited about it because a lot more people are going to be able to relate to it more than if we had [set] it in Scotland,” says Skye. “One of our cast members had a family member that was killed because of what is going on right now [in Juarez]. A lot of people in the audience hopefully don’t have that experience, but they also might have family members who live in Juarez or close by.”
Skye, who has acted in recent CSU Dominguez Hills productions including “Lunch: The 8th Grade Bridge Project,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” says that Shakespeare’s themes lend themselves to reinterpretation because they are “One word: universal. It doesn’t matter if you put [Shakespeare] in Mexico, Scotland, Venus, Mars, Jupiter. His themes are themes of humanity: love, greed, and revenge.”
Sonia Bawa, a junior majoring in theatre arts with a dance option, has been in all of the Dance Department’s concerts since 2008 and played one of the leads in last spring’s production of “Three Sisters.” She says the fight choreography used in “Macbeth” has enhanced her dance training, and the experience of playing Lady Macbeth has given her the opportunity to learn more about Mexican culture, the Spanish language, and history in general.
“It’s interesting to learn about the culture a little bit more,” she says. “Incorporating that and relating it to modern experiences is also opening up what I know about what’s happening in the world right now. We’ve learned more about the past too. Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ was not just pulled from his imagination. It was based on things that were happening in his time.”
Barry Maxwell, a senior majoring in theatre arts, has been in the Dominguez Hills productions of “Everyman: The Musical” and “Three Sisters.” He says that despite the historical references, this production is “not very Shakespearean old-school and tea-timey.”
“It’s going to be a very exciting play,” Maxwell, who is playing one of Macbeth’s henchman, Rosse, says of his first Shakespearean production. “The way we are portraying the events of the play should be very relatable to the audience. Our costumes are really modern and the original script has been cut down to shorten the time of the play. [Where] in the play, someone would say, ‘Northumberland,’ we would change it to ‘El Norte’ to relate it to the Juarez cartel and its location.”
Ruben Morales, a freshman in theatre arts, is a veteran of musical and comedy productions at Narbonne High School. He says that he looks forward to following in the footsteps of his mother, Zulema Morales, who attended CSU Dominguez Hills as a theatre and dance major, with his first dramatic roles as The Captain and Murderer Number Two. He says that having known about the drug cartels through his father, who is from Morelos, Mexico, he finds the production “interesting, definitely different, not what I would [expect] of a portrayal of ‘Macbeth.’” However, he enjoys the parallels of the two stories.
“It [matches] pretty well with it because you have the kings and nobles of Scotland that you can portray as the drug lords and capos of the drug cartel,” says Morales. “Shakespeare can be molded and modernized, that’s why the stories endure.”
Buckley says that she hopes that the CSU Dominguez Hills production of “Macbeth” can serve as a call to action for Americans who may not be as aware of the cross-national ramifications of the drug cartels.
“The more that I as well as the rest of the cast have begun to research this, the more we realized that what is happening down there is atrocious,” she says. “The other thing is that you start to realize that as Americans, we have a huge part in what’s happening. It is Americans who are using these drugs, and paying money that is fueling an awful, despicable inversion of nature in Mexico. Innocent people are dying, women, children, people who are trying to stand up for what’s right are being targeted and assassinated.
“We’re totally enabling it. And we can’t just stand back. We’re helping them to do that, we’re helping criminals. And we need to stand up and help them fix it or we need to come to some solution together to help them.”
Buckley is a playwright and currently serving as artistic director and company manager of the Dominguez Bridge Theatre Company, which was created out of a commitment to bringing social issues and community stories to the stage. She is currently at work on “The Brenda Project,” the company’s final play, which is being presented in memory of theatre arts alumnae Brenda Killian (Class of ’01, B.A., theatre arts/history) who lost her battle with breast cancer last year.
Buckley says that another universal truth found in Shakespeare’s works is that the Bard would “essentially [force] us to focus on morality, what makes somebody good, what makes somebody bad, and to look at what are the right actions and what are the wrong actions in society.
“His themes are universal and they happen over and over again. We need to take time to reflect on them so that we can find a better way.”
“Macbeth” opens in the University Theatre on Oct. 22, with performances on Oct. 23, 29, 30 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 31 at 2 p.m.
To learn more about the CSU Dominguez Hills production of “Macbeth,” click here.
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Group rates are available. For more ticket information and to purchase tickets online, click here. For other payment options, call the box office at (310) 243-3589.
For more information on “Macbeth” or the CSU Dominguez Hills Theatre and Dance program, contact the theatre office at (310) 243-3588 or click here.