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THEATER REVIEW : A Mixed Bard : Whitefire's hourlong production of 'Macbeth' is just a surface treatment, but madcap 'Twelfth Night' makes up for it.

January 28, 1994|T. H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T. H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

SHERMAN OAKS — Coleridge said that watching Edmund Kean act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.

The line is brought to mind at the beginning of Wendy Robie's one-hour version of "Macbeth" at the Whitefire Theatre. Three cloaked and hooded figures swirl about the stage in a dim twilight glow, illuminated intermittently by lightning bursts that awaken the audience's sense of expectation.

At the end, Coleridge's quote is still echoing. Robie's editing has retained most of the basic story in bright flashes, but left the psychology, the depth and poetry in the darkness of the cutting room floor. This "Macbeth" could be an able introduction to the play for the very young and inexperienced, but there is little left for a mature audience. And there's little time for the very capable actors to develop much in the way of characterization, even for Robie's sly Lady Macbeth or Tony Carreiro's gritty Thane.

Robie directs her eight actors with energy and a neat balance of values, but there just isn't enough time for more than a surface glance at the tragedy.

Both as editor and director, Robie has better luck with the second hourlong Shakespearean vignette, a rollicking, uproarious staging of "Twelfth Night." Even the Bard's most complicated comedy condenses well, and Robie has given it a clever and tasty modern setting, vaguely in the 1930s. The story is all there and, in this abridgment, enough of the high and very low comedy remains intact. You don't need to know the inner workings of the minds of these confused lovers and noble buffoons. Even at full length, Shakespeare knows better than to let psychology muck about with his laughs.

Here, Robie is a stalwart Viola (later disguised as Cesario) and sets the tone by appearing from her shipwreck in a tawdry Inverness slicker with a huge beach towel turban. Carreiro is as sensitively lovelorn an Orlando as his Macbeth was taut and aggressive.

The supporting company, which was capable but not extraordinary in "Macbeth," is exquisitely madcap in "Twelfth Night"--from Leland Crooke's prissy, officious Malvolio to Michael McNeill's geeky Sir Toby Belch. Daniel Hirsch is strong as both Viola's sea captain and her twin brother Sebastian's friend Antonio, and Andrea Goyan is a delightfully bimbotic Olivia.

John Furse, with the best command of the poetry as Macduff in "Macbeth," is a deliciously jiggly and coy overweight Maria in the comedy. The amazing Gene Weygandt actually assumes a new identity as each of his characters, including the drunken Porter and Macduff's innocent son in "Macbeth," and the raunchy Sir Andrew Aguecheek and stripling Sebastian in "Twelfth Night."

The rapid doubling of roles might confuse someone unfamiliar with the plays, and make a stew of the Scottish play, but wouldn't matter a whit with the comedy.

Where and When

What: "An Evening of Shakespeare."

Location: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Indefinitely.

Price: $10 to $12.

Call: (818) 990-2324.

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