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THEATER REVIEW

'Sleep': Modern Character Studies of Macbeth

March 07, 1997|PHILIP BRANDES

Amid the post-Freudian scramble to understand the true self, how often do we pause to consider the possibility that we might not like what we find?

Uneasy self-discovery runs rampant in Empire Red Lip company's "Murdered Sleep: Meditations on Shakespeare's Macbeth" at Glaxa Studios. Drawing from a long collaborative workshop on the unconscious, John Steppling, Guy Zimmerman and Wesley Walker each wrote and directed one of the show's three haunting, dreamlike excursions into the deep structures of the contemporary psyche, framed with excerpts from the classic play (all directed by Steppling). The juxtapositions are chillingly appropriate--more than any other Shakespearean protagonist, Macbeth traveled the twisty corridors of the mind to find blackness at its bottom.

Deftly straddling the centuries between Macbeth and an array of disturbing modern characters, principal performers John Horn and Lisa Ramirez peel the layers off concealed intentions with finesse and precision. Racked with greed, lust and self-loathing, Horn's Macbeth practically spits and hisses the verse, while Ramirez turns Lady Macbeth into an icy, vampiric figure of crystal articulation. The polarity continues as Horn's other characters are manipulated by Ramirez.

The links between Shakespearean and original sequences are obliquely associative rather than direct, and sometimes lashed with sardonic humor: "Ready for red?" suggests a confession-prone wine-tasting server to her reluctant patron in Walker's "Bloody Man." He gets more than a sip, in a surreal physical transformation in which he gives birth to his own moral consequences embodied in flesh and blood.

Alienation figures prominently in the other two new pieces. In Zimmerman's "Quell," Horn's callous husband reveals his selfishness beside his inert, hospitalized wife. Steppling's "One Gate to the City" recalls the eerie, unbridgeable culture described in the stories of Paul Bowles, as a tourist (Horn) tries to get a Moroccan native (Ramirez) to abduct his wife into slavery.

The giant wire cube flanked by rust-dappled diptychs in Jeffrey Atherton's stark set situate the action in a Francis Bacon painting. All that's missing are the strips of raw meat--and those are readily apparent in the mind's eye.

* "Murdered Sleep: Meditations on Shakespeare's Macbeth," Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends March 23. $12. (213) 666-6130 Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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