Would the tragedies of Shakespeare, written some four centuries ago, be better served for modern audiences if they were condensed into about half their usual running time and offered without benefit of intermission?
Before you shout "heresy," check out the streamlined version of "Macbeth" now on stage at Golden West College. Director Martie Ramm has boiled down the classic saga of regicide and revenge into a completely satisfying 90-minute version which even purists should appreciate.
Her concept is bolstered by an imposing setting from Tim Mueller, whose video projections enhance the show without modernizing it greatly. Banquo's ghost, for example, is a cinematic vision, glimpsed only by the protagonist, rather than a physical appearance by an actor in ghoulish garb interrupting Macbeth's feast.
Widely known as "the Scottish play," whose name must not be uttered outside a theater, "Macbeth" chronicles the title character's bloody ascent to the throne of Scotland and his eventual undoing. Golden West has done a fine job of condensation, even though significant characters often go unidentified by name recognition.
Taking on the challenging central role is Matthew Cobb, who builds his character gradually but firmly from loyal tribune to murderous adversary. Cobb's transformation is credible primarily because of the amorous goading of his sultry wife, splendidly enacted by Savannah Smith.
Smith's seductive beauty propels the plot during her sensuous scenes with Cobb, and her horrified sequence involving her bloody hands is well played. Only her eventual demise receives short shrift in the GWC version.
Jonathan West as Macbeth's rival Macduff is a powerful presence, although the climactic clash between these two characters could be more believably accomplished. Matthew Villescas is well cast as the unfortunate Banquo, joined on stage by young Colton Dorfman in a fine performance as Banquo's son.
The three witches who foretell Macbeth's future are anything but "filthy hags," as Macbeth describes them. Alexis Cueva, Kaitlin Lueke and Madison Smith are every bit as delectable as Lady Macbeth herself and they strut their physical allure proudly.
Technically, the Golden West production is quite impressive with Crystal Shomph's lighting effects particularly effective, as are the sound designs of Jeff Polunas, offering bagpipe melodies during the scenic transitions. Megan Knowles' costumes nicely convey the flavor of 11th century Scotland.
Adherence to Scottish accents occasionally disrupts the clarity of the production, yet this "Macbeth" is staunchly involving in its incisive presentation at Golden West College.
If You Go
When: Closing performance Sunday at 2 p.m.
Where: Golden West College, 15751 Gothard St., Huntington Beach
Cost: $14 to $16
Information: (714) 895-8150 or gwctheater.com.