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Stage Light

Comic Version of 'Macbeth' a Tragedy

October 26, 2000|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Macbeth," that grimmest of Shakespearean tragedies, as a slapstick comedy?

Well, sure. In fact, what playwright Richard Nathan does in "Scots on the Rocks," at the Chandler Studio, isn't exactly new.

In the '60s, Archibald Macleish transformed what actors always superstitiously refer to as "The Scottish Tragedy" into his spoof "Macbird."

In Nathan's version, the witches are a singing trio called "The Weird Sisters," dressed up in generic Halloween witch costumes, while Lady Macbeth (Erron Gralore) is transformed by the witches into a guy with a mustache wearing dresses. It makes all that browbeating of hubby Macbeth (Jason Cramer) all the more brutal.

Does it make it funnier?

No. Director Michael Holmes, usually with an unerring sense of what works onstage, doesn't control the broad verbal and physical business, and although the program acknowledges the traditions of Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, among others, much of what "Scots on the Rocks" recalls are the later movies of Jerry Lewis, when the high jinks became so unhinged that they stopped generating laughs.

Typical example: Macbeth, with Banquo (Paul St. Peter doing a spot-on Sean Connery vocal impersonation), first confronts the witches, and the clueless Thane is immediately confused over the fact that one witch is called Witch Witch (Nancy Solomons) and another is called Weird Witch (Clive Rees, in another drag performance). This leads to a variation on Abbott and Costello's "Who's on Third?" routine, and it's deafeningly unfunny.

Another example: Later in the action, St. Peter is back as Macduff's unlucky son and for some reason is doing a Groucho routine, complete with cigar. Again, it comes off as lame shtick, without a context.

Perhaps Nathan means to suggest that Macbeth's Scotland itself is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" but slapstick, but that's giving the play more weight than it really has.

There's an overall randomness to Nathan's play that, while closely tracking Shakespeare's original, lacks in comedic terms the source material's structure and build.

Holmes' cast also lacks the sheer endurance and verve to push the shtick forward. Cramer has to play the henpecked husband until it's exhausting for everyone concerned, and those witches really wear out their welcome.

Gralore delivers some choice moments, though, especially when his Lady Macbeth is dead, eyes open for seemingly minutes and propped up on a hand dolly.

Good comic twists on Shakespeare ultimately get back to the source and don't ask for your laughter.

That "Scots" most resembles a "Saturday Night Live" spoof of "Macbeth" stretched from five minutes to nearly two hours is probably the worst thing you can say about it, and the most accurate.

BE THERE

"Scots on the Rocks," Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Runs indefinitely. $10-$15. (818) 908-4094. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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