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Stage Light

The Present Is No Gift for This 'Macbeth'

March 22, 2001|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the ruthless conglomerate of Scotland Inc., ladder-climbing executive Macbeth murders his way to the CEO spot but soon finds himself the object of revenge and hostile corporate takeovers. The final face-off takes place on the links of Birnam Wood Country Club.

You get the idea. In the latest of a trend, Shakespeare's "Macbeth," care of adapter-director Michael Ordona's staging at the Whitefire Theatre, is sent in a time machine to the 21st century. Scotland refers to a company. Armor refers to a business suit. Horse refers to a car. The Three Witches who draw out Macbeth's evil side are a trio of homeless women, and their caldron is a shopping cart.

Unfortunately, the show's time and culture shifts are much more a burden than a strength. The big-business angle appears quite clever at first, as CEO Duncan (David Rutter) manages his firm's abilities to hold off competitors, while just below the surface his underlings are restless. Macbeth (Bashir Abass Salahuddin) deplanes at LAX with fellow vice president Banquo (Paula Jane Newman) and has his first sighting of the Witches (Amy Haffner, Jennifer Moyse, Erika Amato), who correctly predict his upcoming promotions.

This director's concept works nicely for a while, so long as the play is restricted to quiet intrigue, petty jealousies and fear of opponents. Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Mack) doesn't seem to be one of those corporate trophy wives kept at home for display at occasional parties--she's too strong for that. Her ruthlessness, however, which isn't potently expressed by Mack, seems completely out of proportion to this particular world, and it's the first indicator that Ordona's changes are hardly enough to overcome some blatant problems.

Wanting to be queen simply isn't like wanting to be the CEO's wife, no matter what this version might argue. When Macbeth and his Lady opt for murder rather than the more traditional form of internal downsizing, the evening is on a one-way track for terminal goofiness.

By the time things have taken their bloody course, we're served the silly spectacles of the Witches bursting out into rock 'n' roll numbers and armies of corporate officers battling each other on the golf course with briefcases and slow-motion leg kicks. Chief combatants such as Macbeth, Macduff (Damian Mooney) and Donalbain (Brendan D. Pentzell) fight with swords yanked from golf bags.

Fight choreographer Brian Reynolds needs to rethink his work, which is far closer to suggesting comedy than tragedy.

This is the Quantum Theatre Company's second stab at updated Shakespeare (the first was last year's "Julius Caesar"), and this tendency needs serious reconsideration. Most of the actors aren't up to the task, including Salahuddin's unmoving Macbeth and Mooney's Macduff, who can barely be heard in the intimate Whitefire. Pentzell is one of the few onstage who brings nuance and understanding to the text: He modernizes the language through behavior alone, which is the real way to bring Shakespeare to the present.

BE THERE

"Macbeth," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends April 15. $12-$15. (818) 755-8850. Running time: 2 hours.

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