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THEATER REVIEW

Taking 'Macbeth' in wrong direction

July 28, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

The Independent Shakespeare Company continues its summer of free Shakespeare in Barnsdall Art Park with "Macbeth," which plays in rotating repertory with "Richard II" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Now in its fourth season, this crisply professional company offers solid renderings of the Bard atop the balmy promontory of Barnsdall, where playgoers picnic and lounge under the stars while watching the evening's entertainment. It's a halcyon setting, marred only by the occasional droning helicopter.

Co-directors Melissa Chalsma and Danny Campbell, who also play Lady Macbeth and Banquo, respectively, opt for a determined minimalism in their staging. A semicircle of chairs suffices for the set, while the costumes are strictly suggestive -- a shawl here, a helmet there, worn over mostly contemporary attire. The actors, many of whom play multiple roles, are on stage throughout the action.

This stripped-down "Macbeth" nonetheless needs a few toning exercises to get into fighting trim. Not that the ready cast isn't prepared. Unmiked and unamplified, these performers are richly coherent, handling Shakespeare's language with an unflagging facility that is a joy to hear.

The problem here is directorial. Chalsma and Campbell infuse the text with considerable humor that is often welcome but just as frequently misplaced. Of course, "Macbeth" offers obvious opportunities for laughs, particularly in the scene with the Porter (also Campbell), who interacts freely with the audience, to comical effect. But for the most part, the play requires a concentrated austerity. In its transitions from cheekiness to calamity, this production staggers.

A similar problem plagues David Melville in the title role. Melville also plays Richard in the company's production of "Richard II." Melville's Richard is an opulent performance, as boldly wry as it is ultimately heartbreaking. However, the same air of cerebral insouciance that so brilliantly informs Melville's Richard leaks over into his Macbeth, a flaw that, although not fatal, certainly undermines Macbeth's essential brutality. The difficulty extends to Macbeth's dynamic with his Lady (Chalsma), who, although certainly an ardent schemer, doesn't seem as knowingly clever as her husband by a longshot -- a troubling imbalance that upends Shakespeare's meaning.

And why, one wonders, has Andrea Gwynnel Morgan been cast in the crucial role of Malcolm? An able pro, the petite Morgan is reduced here to an exaggerated swagger and a falsely lowered vocal register. Gender-blind casting can be admirable -- but not when it so obviously doesn't serve the play.

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'Macbeth'

Where: Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m., see www.independentshakespeare.com for schedule

Ends: Sept. 1

Price: Free

Contact: (818) 710-6306

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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