Kelly Bartnik, Theresa McElwee, Susannah Hoffman

PHOTO: Steven Trumon Gray


Church staging of 'Macbeth' thrills on the Lower East Side

by Alex Biese, APP


Something beautifully wicked is brewing in, of all places, a church on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Director Julia Campanelli and her Shelter Theatre Group are staging William Shakespeare's dark classic "Macbeth" at the Church of Saint Teresa at Rutgers and Henry Streets, through Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.

From the opening with the play's Weird Sisters -- the bewitching trio of Kelly Bartnik, Theresa McElwee and Susannah Hoffman -- lighting candles on the church's altar and swinging incense, Campanelli and her players artfully blend the text with the chosen location of this staging, a still-active Roman Catholic church.

And while the deadly conflict on display here wouldn't have be out of place in certain passages of the Old Testament, to see Shakespeare's masterwork of sex and violence staged on a church altar is a wholly unique thrill, a divine marriage of the sacred and the profane.

But, aside from the setting, what sets Campanelli's "Macbeth" apart is how willing she and her players are to just get down to business. There's no mucking about, not even any flowing blood; the players dive into the work and let the words, in a big way, speak for themselves.

Campanelli and several cast members -- including Bartnik, Careena Melia, Rob Najarian and Sai Somboon -- previously performed in "Sleep No More," a mostly dialogue-free reinterpretation of "Macbeth" that's been a New York City hit for years now, and for longtime fans of that show it's a thrill to see these actors return to the text that started it all.

Melia, in particular, shines in her work as Lady Macbeth. From her introductory scene, with its famed "Come you spirits" monologue that takes on a whole new dimension in this sacred setting, Melia makes the part her own. She finds the deep humanity behind the character's resolve and ambition. She's captivating and powerful, but most importantly, she makes it all feel real.

Across the board, the cast delivers. In the title role of the Scottish lord on a murderous quest to attain and maintain the throne, "Boardwalk Empire's" Tim Eliot delivers intelligence and dark humor, while Annie Paul strikes decidedly different and equally-effective notes as both the comic relief role of the Porter and the doomed Lady Macduff.

The production, which was partially funded through money raised on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, has a D.I.Y., nearly guerrilla-style aesthetic that serves as an effective counterpoint to the ornateness of the church, which was established in 1863, and the show is fueled by a live percussive score performed by Kazuki Kozuru-Salifoska.

"Macbeth" is nearly ubiquitous these days -- along with "Sleep No More," there have been recent productions starring Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh and Alan Cumming, plus a film starring Michael Fassbender on the way -- but Campanelli's take holds its own. It's a gripping, down-to-earth and all too human telling of this timeless tale.



'Macbeth' is Everywhere

Shakespeare's oft-told tale lands in Manhattan's Lower East Side

by Alex Biese, APP


Something wicked this way comes: director Julia Campanelli and her Shelter Theatre Group are presenting a new production of "Macbeth" for a five-show engagement beginning Sunday, Jan. 26. Campanelli and her players will be staging William Shakespeare's oft-told tale of a Scottish lord's bloody rise to power at the Church of Saint Teresa on Henry Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

"We're doing a cursed play in a church," said Campanelli, noting that the Bard's "Scottish Play" is also the thirteenth show she's directed in New York. Nothing like tempting the fates.

Irish-born actress Careena Melia, playing Lady Macbeth in this production, said it's "a little scary" to be bringing "Macbeth" into a sacred setting.

"It definitely lends another layer to some of the text, especially the 'Come you spirits' monologue," said Melia. "It'll be very intense to get into the space and start working it in there, it definitely brings another color into some of those lines, some of that text."

Melia and Campanelli know about new spins on "Macbeth": both actresses previously played Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, in "Sleep No More," a Hitchcock-influenced, largely dialogue-free and immersive interpolation of the play that has been packing audiences in at New York City's McKittrick Hotel for years.

"It was nice to return to the text, it's nice to return to the language and it's nice to return to the core root story after going off and riffing on it for so long with 'Sleep No More,' " said Melia. "It's kind of a cool return to the text in a very fleshed-out way. I went down another path and got to explore something different, a different element of the play, and returning to the text and the language again is awesome, it's nice."

Added Campanelli: "The text is everything, just the words, being able to say the words again. For me, Shakespeare is my Bible, I'm never far from it anywhere. I have more copies of Shakespeare's plays, different versions of them, than any other book in my house."

A number of Melia and Campanelli's fellow former "Sleep No More" performers will also appear in "Macbeth," including Kelly Bartnik, Rob Najarian and Sai Somboon. "Boardwalk Empire" actor Tim Eliot, who previously worked with Melia in a production of "Hamlet," stars as Macbeth.

'Macbeth' on the mind

The production received a boost through a campaign on crowd-funding website Indiegogo, where it surpassed its goal and ultimately raised $8,445.

"It generated a lot of interest," Campanelli said of the campaign. "People are really behind us and wanted us to succeed."

"Macbeth" appears to be the Shakespeare play of the moment: along with "Sleep No More" and Campanelli's production, there have been recent takes on the play feature West Windsor native Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh and Alan Cumming in the title role, with a big screen version starring Michael Fassbender on the way.

A tale of corruption, conflict and bloody ambition, it seems that the themes of "Macbeth" will never be far from the minds of the viewing public.

"It's an absolutely current story, and it's still going on, I think it will always go on," said Campanelli. "It's always going to exist somewhere in the world."

"There's also an element of ambition and fate and how much you can control and how much is predestined," said Melia. "It's very Greek in that way as well. But, it really has had this huge resurgence, which is interesting. I feel like every once in a while one of Shakespeare's plays gets done everywhere suddenly. It's like, 'Jesus, suddenly 'Titus' is everywhere,' or suddenly 'Richard III' is everywhere. 'Midsummer' is always done, but it seems like 'Macbeth' is just suddenly everywhere."

That includes a church: The Church of Saint Teresa was established in 1863, in an area and an era depicted by filmmaker Martin Scorsese in his 2002 picture "Gangs of New York."

"This church was built in the middle of what was going on in Martin Scorsese's movie, it was the gang wars," said Campanelli. "It was also during the Civil War draft riots in New York City when U.S. Navy warships were in the New York harbor bombing New York City because the riots were so bad. In the middle of all this, they put up a church. I thought, 'Well, this church just chose me.' So, I'm placing the play in the same atmosphere: that the church is a sanctuary and just outside of the doors there's war going on, there's fighting, there's death and violence."



Julia Campanelli and Alex Biese

Shelter Theatre Group Presents Staged Readings

By Alex Biese, APP

January 16, 2015


Fair Verona came to New York City this week, as Shelter Theatre Group presented a concert staged reading of William Shakespeare's timeless classic 'Romeo and Juliet' on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the Manhattan Theatre Club's space on West 43rd Street.


Directed by Julia Campanelli, the reading presented a gender-swapped telling of the Bard's star-crossed lovers' tale: Careena Melia and Hunter Gilmore shone as Romeo and Juliet, respectively, dipping deep into the text and finding the open-hearted cores of their characters. Despite the unconventional casting, throughout the show's five acts, Melia and Gilmore delivered fresh, captivating takes on characters that are among the most often-portrayed roles in the Shakespeare canon.


Campanelli, a veteran of the Macbeth-inspired immersive theater sensation 'Sleep No More', stocked her cast with both former and current cast members of that show, including Melia, Elizabeth Romanski as scene-stealing Mercutio, and Ed Stanley as Lady Capulet.


The one-night-only performance of 'Romeo and Juliet' was the first in Shelter Theatre Group's 2015 season of readings. Future selections, according to Campanelli, will include Jean Genet's 'The Maids', and Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', with dates to be announced.


Campanelli and the Shelter Theatre Grpoup, which she founded in 1992, are very much worth payiNg attention to. The production of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' she directed at New York's Church of Saint Teresa last year was praiseworthy, largely thanks to how willing she and her players were to just get down to business.


It seems that in Campanelli shows there's no mucking about; the players dive into the work and let the words, in a big way, speak for themselves.