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Lebanon High Graduate Returns for Northern Stage’s ‘Macbeth’

  • Trisha Miller, as Lady MacBeth, welcomes Robert David Grant, as MacBeth, home after he has been named Thane of Cawdor during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Robert David Grant, as MacBeth, shares a scene with Hollis McCarthy, left, as Rosse, and Bradley Anderson, as Lennox, during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The three witches, from left, Virginia Ogden, Rigel Harris, and Carene Rose Mekertichyen, encounter MacBeth and Banquo during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • MacBeth, played by Robert David Grant, contemplates the predictions of the three witches during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stephen Lee Anderson plays a scene as King Duncan during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Robert David Grant, as MacBeth, contemplates the the murder of King Duncan during a dress rehearsal of the play at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The season opening production brings the Shakespearean tragedy into the context of modern warfare. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2016

The stage at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction looks like a war zone, sand-blasted and awash in rubble, while a tower of TV sets stands to one side. It’s part of the set design for Northern Stage’s production of Macbeth.

Rigel Harris, a 23-year-old who plays both the First Witch and Lady Macbeth’s servant, looks over the set that’s going to be home for the next month while technicians work on various aspects of the production and director Stephen Brown-Fried wanders in from the lobby in preparation for that morning’s rehearsal.

“They’re capable of doing so much in this space,” Harris said, marveling at both the size of the set, and the sophistication of the lighting and sound equipment, a big step up from the company’s previous space in the Briggs Opera House.

Macbeth previews begin this evening, opening night is Saturday, and the production runs through Oct. 28.

This is an audacious interpretation of the classic, set in the aftermath of a 21st century war, rather than in medieval Scotland. Brown-Fried’s conception of the play involves the fog of modern warfare and the technologies that, to some extent, direct how war is carried out.

But the battles-to-the-death for political and military dominance, and the personalities at the heart of those struggles, are still very much at the center of the production. More than 400 years since Macbeth was first produced, it has lost none of its pertinence, or dark power.

“We're so lucky to be able to do this production now: It’s emotionally and intellectually smart,” said Harris, who has red hair, blue eyes and an open expression.

Raised and schooled in Lebanon, Harris graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with a degree in theater and dance. She also studied at the British Academy of Dramatic Arts in London during a junior year abroad and at the Accademia dell’Arte in Italy.

She is not the only local talent appearing in the production: Robert David Grant, who grew up in Vershire, has been cast as Macbeth and George Colligan, who grew up in Hanover, plays both Donalbaine and Seyton.

Dartmouth College graduates Carene Mekertichyan, Phumi Sitole, and Damian Thompson are, respectively, the second witch, Lady Macduff and Banquo. Current Dartmouth student Virginia Ogden plays the third witch.

And younger actors Roberto Silva and Tessa Cullen, both Upper Valley residents, are cast as Banquo’s son, and Macduff’s daughter, respectively.

It’s part of Northern Stage’s role as an educator of young theater talent to “move them up into the profession when they’re ready,” said Carol Dunne, Northern Stage’s artistic director.

Northern Stage has been Harris’ second home for years: “I grew up at the Briggs,” Harris said.

She went through the Northern Stage theater education programs, and learned the ropes backstage, while also watching professional actors from the wings.

To now return to the company as an actor, she said, “is something I’ve wanted for so long.”

Harris, who was named for a bright star in the constellation Orion, is the daughter of high school biology teachers. (Her first name is pronounced Rye-jel.)

She started out in school concentrating on basketball as an extracurricular activity, but became more interested in theater as a result of doing the Northern Stage theater camps.

“When I was at basketball practice I was thinking about theater,” Harris said.

Her commitment to the theater strengthened, and she went from spending one afternoon a week at the theater to being at Northern Stage as often as she could.

Unlike some adolescents and young adults who have to puzzle out what career they want to pursue, Harris has known from a tender age that she wanted to go into the theater, despite the challenges of actually making a living as an actor.

“People who go into the theater can’t imagine doing anything else,” Harris said. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.”

As it happens, Harris played Lady Macbeth in a college production but she knew it was unrealistic to expect to play that role in the Northern Stage production. Harris hoped, she said, to land the part of one of the three witches or Lady Macduff.

She auditioned first for Carol Dunne, who knew her from judging a Poetry Out Loud competition at Lebanon High School in 2010, which Harris won. Dunne then encouraged her to go into the theater. Harris later worked and acted in small roles at New London Barn Playhouse where Dunne was artistic director before she moved to Northern Stage. Harris then went to New York to audition for Brown-Fried.

“The way (Harris) is able to use Shakespeare’s language takes me back to why she was able to win Poetry Out Loud. She is able to use the words as a living entity,” Dunne said.

When Macbeth finishes its run, Harris plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in acting.

She also is intent on creating her own work, because it offers a level of independence and creativity that is absent in the round-robin of auditioning and being rejected or accepted for parts due to factors entirely out of her control.

Harris expects a rooting section on Macbeth’s opening night. “I’m sending invitations out to everyone I’ve ever met,” she said, laughing. She will also go back to Lebanon High School, and to Kimball Union Academy, to discuss the play with students.

Inspecting the set under construction at the Barrette Center for the Arts, Harris looks a little dreamy and enthralled by what she and the rest of the cast are about to undertake. But then she sniffs the air.

“I sort of miss the way the Briggs smelled like bagels,” she said.

For tickets and information go to northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.