Actor Timothy Stickney wants people to leave theater thinking. That’s why he has delayed performing in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth until now.
The New Jersey-based actor, best known for his portrayal of R.J. Gannon in ABC’s `One Life to Live,` had a chance to perform `The Scottish Play` in 2004, but didn’t want people trying to draw parallels to that year’s presidential election.
`This play is about ambition and the consequences of action,` Stickney, who will play Macbeth in the New York State Theater Institute’s production that’s opening this week, said. `Macbeth is powerful as the Thane (a Scottish feudal lord) of Glamys, then he becomes Thane of Cawdor and falls prey to his ambition.`
That ambition, urged on by his wife, Lady Macbeth, causes Macbeth to kill Duncan, the king of Scotland, so he can become king himself. While it’s tempting to blame Lady Macbeth ` and perhaps the three witches who at the beginning of the play foretell Macbeth’s future ` nobody at NYSTI is producing this play as destiny that must be fulfilled.
Stickney sees Macbeth as a version of a timeless question: `What would you do to advance your ambition?`
`This story has relevance to humanity,` said Elizabeth Swain, who’s directing the production. `If you make a wrong move, you pay the price.`
While many productions of `Macbeth` emphasize the history of the piece, Swain is going for universality.
`It takes place in no time; in a universal dark place,` she said. `The costumes are modern, but have a past sense about them. The actors wear military gear. Macbeth enters an evil, dark world.`
If you’ve never been to a Shakespeare production, or have felt put off by one, Sarah Howes, director of public/media relations and marketing for NYSTI, said this is a good one to start with.
Requested by local teachers, Howes said `Macbeth` is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, and is full of action.
`It gets going with the first murder and just keeps going,` she said. In addition to several sword-fighting scenes, Macbeth has witches and ghosts, as Macbeth is haunted by his actions throughout the play.
The cast of the NYSTI production will also bear out the tributes to the richness of Shakespeare’s words.
`Timothy has an extraordinary ability with the language,` Swain said. `I directed him as Hamlet in the spring and a couple of years ago, and his ability is at the center of the show.`
`I love language and I love listening,` Stickney said. `My father was a Presbyterian minister and he often quoted pieces of poetry, and posed deep questions. I often wouldn’t answer something until I knew I could get it perfect.`
Stickney said his career path is a little different than that of many black American actors.
`It’s often hard to convince people that an American black man can play a classical actor, but people have often cast me in classic pieces,` he said. He recalled being asked to perform Richard III, and at first thinking he’d be a lord or a role often typically played by a black actor.
Stickney works frequently with a company called Take Wing and Soar, whose mission is to help classical actors of color to achieve their full potential.
`I owe it to them to do it,` he said. `You have to find your way through Shakespeare, speak it, do it, until there’s the happy accident when you say ‘Now I get it. What emotions can I tie in with that?’ Just reading Shakespeare doesn’t work.`
Stickney hopes that audiences have that same happy accident, and is always pleased when people tell him they’ve completely understood the piece ` often to the point of asking if they’ve changed the lines.
Stickney and Swain had high praise for the NYSTI company.
`This is a wonderful core group,` Swain said. `They’re experienced and able, and very welcoming to others.`
As for who will like the play, Stickney, Swain and Howes are sure everyone will.
`The story is riveting, and the message is relevant,` Swain said.
Macbeth opens on Friday, Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. There will be 10 a.m. performances on Feb. 5, 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13; 8 p.m. performances on Friday, Feb. 8, and Saturday, Feb. 2 and 9; and 2 p.m. performances on Sunday, Feb. 3 and 10.
For information or to purchase tickets, call 274-3200 or visit www.nysti.org. NYSTI is located at 37 First St. in Troy.“