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Macbeth goes to church

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. Macbeth is going to church. The Shakespearean tragedy with its witches, blood and violence will be presented by a Bethel College touring troupe during the college's January interterm. Performances are planned on campus and in Colorado churches. Director Brent Noel knows that performing a Shakespearean tragedy in a Mennonite church may raise a few eyebrows, but he is convinced that's exactly where the 400-year-old play should be performed. Why "Macbeth?" Why not something a little more life-affirming? What place does "Macbeth" have in a church?

"I realize 'Macbeth' seems to go against the concepts of pacifism, humility and sanctity," Noel says. "The themes of 'Macbeth' include ambition, violence, evil, lust, witchcraft, manipulation, revenge and more violence. It presents some of the ugliest aspects of the human condition. That's exactly why I think this play should be done in a church."

Brought up in the Methodist church, educated at a Lutheran college, Noel believes that Christians should not try to avoid the ugliness of life. "Our faith should negotiate us through life by helping us deal with the ugliness," Noel says. "If we choose to closet ourselves away from that which is uncomfortable to our sensibilities or those things that remind us of our temptations and obstacles, we shift the burden of struggle to someone else and, in the process, teach them a lesson in cowardice.

"By looking at that ugliness, that evil, we are not condoning it; but we are made aware of its existence. And if we cannot muster the courage to look at evil and violence and brutality, in all their harshness, we cannot confront those dangers. If we cannot confront them, we cannot overcome them."

Producing a tragedy does not mean endorsing violence. The point of producing a play like this one, Noel explains, is to stimulate questions and discussion about the value of Christianity in a complex world. "When we do 'Macbeth' in a Mennonite church or anywhere else," Noel says, "we're not condoning the actions displayed any more than we would be advocating crucifixion if we presented the Passion play. As theatre makers, we hope to show the world as we know it. As Christians, we hope to use that knowledge to build a better world," Noel says.

Local performances of "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 23 in Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton; and 8 p.m., Jan. 31 and Feb. 1-2 in the Administration Building Chapel, Bethel College, North Newton. The building is handicapped accessible.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors. Tickets will be available at the door.

In Colorado, performances are scheduled for Boulder Mennonite Church, 1520 Euclid Ave. at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 24; First Mennonite Church of Denver, 430 W. 9th Ave. at 7 p.m., Jan. 25; and Beth-El Mennonite Church, 1219 Yuma St., Colorado Springs at 6 p.m., Jan. 26.

The cast includes Bethany Amstutz, sophomore from Goessel; J.J. Birky, junior from Colorado Springs, Colo.; Ivonne Cabrera, sophomore from McPherson; Henry Dick, sophomore from Bloomington, Ill.; Ben Gundy, freshman from Bluffton, Ohio; Dave Hasegawa, junior from Sanger, Calif.; Jared Hawkley, sophomore from Homewood, Ill.; Jami Reeves, freshman from Buhler; Jeremy Schrag, junior from Moundridge; Nick Schrag, freshman from Freeman, S.D.; Ian Swanson, senior from Lindsborg; Taryn Temple, fifth-year student from McPherson; and Maria Tschetter, sophomore from Freeman, S.D.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.