Saturday, June 14, 2008

STAGE: Macbeth3

LA Women's Shakespeare Company and The Dogsbody have produced an extraordinary production of Macbeth. First, the play has been pared down to its essentials, being performed by only three actors and coming at only an hour or so. But even though the production is "bounded by a nutshell" in time and space (the Ruby Theatre is about a 50-seater), director Lisa Wolpe "counts herself king of infinite space" by doing a very psychological version of the play, very subjective, set inside the increasingly undone mind of Macbeth. With a quick shift of voice, posture, and lighting, the same actors transform in an instant from Macbeth and Banquo to witches and back, effectively covering multiple characters with the spare cast, or perhaps suggesting that the witches were voices and visions inside Macbeth's head. In the banquet scene, the director has cleverly inverted the traditional staging to great effect. We expect to see discomfited dinner guests on stage watching Macbeth become frightened by thin air. In this version, the bloody Banquo is physically present on stage, while there are no guests, leaving Lady Macbeth to turn apologetically to the audience, as if we were the guests. It was an excellent way to play it from inside Macbeth's head. The three actors all performed admirably in gender-swapped roles, with Kate Roxburgh doing a powerful Macbeth, Gavin McClure as Lady Macbeth and Satan, and Lisa Wolpe doing a compelling MacDuff, Banquo (alive and ghostly), Duncan and various other parts. Wolpe gave an especially memorable turn as a demonic porter (the audience applauded at the end of the bit, as at the end of a great jazz solo riff). The production was also impressive, as much was made of a small spare set, with good lighting and sound. A cauldron in midstage provided a threatrical entrance and exit for Satan, witches, and even the porter, as well as a final exit for Lady Macbeth, whom we see plunging into hell. And great sounds, like the screech of an owl and a raven, really turned the screw. The knocking on the castle door just after the murder was never so thunderous or ominous as it was in this very intense psychological production. This was the last weekend for the show in LA, but they're taking it to London in July, and to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in September.

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