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THEATER REVIEW ‘MACBETH’ : The Bard of Ojai : Director Paul Backer keeps things quick and simple in his third production for the Shakespeare Festival.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Things are going nicely for Macbeth. Already a general, a military hero and Thane of Glamis, he learns from a trio of witches that he’s destined to win additional honors and wind up king of Scotland. At first, he’s skeptical. But then, as the witches predicted, he’s unexpectedly named Thane (a title comparable to the English “Earl”) of Cawdor.

Thus begins “Macbeth,” this summer’s production of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival, whose six-night stand closes this weekend.

By play’s end, seemingly half of 11th-Century Scotland has been slaughtered as Macbeth slashes his way to fulfillment of the witches’ prediction. Neither women nor children are spared if they get in the way.

The English regard their neighbors to the north as being just short of barbarians. That characterization, the copious bloodshed and those three witches combine to form an appealingly sanguine stew. The combination of ingredients also invites--no, demands--scenery-chewing, to which challenge the Ojai company rises with great vigor.

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David McAllister, a professional actor with extensive television and Shakespeare experience, virtually spits out the iambs as the tragic protagonist.

Marilyn Phelps, a longtime member of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival, is somewhat more restrained as unscrupulous Lady Macbeth. In fact, she shows so much strength and cunning as she pushes her husband to fulfill his destiny that any Scot of the day would rush to read Kitty MacKelley’s unauthorized biography of her.

There are more than 30 players in this production; while the performances are of varying quality (most at least acceptable), most of the actors seem to have an idea of what they’re talking about, and without the battle of conflicting accents that one often encounters in such productions.

Among the standouts are Virginia Streat and Glenn Emanuel (Portia and Shylock in last year’s “The Merchant of Venice”) as Lady Macduff and a drunken porter, who in one scene, supplies a large chunk of the low comedy in “Macbeth.”

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Director Paul Backer keeps things simple and moving quickly in this, his third production for the festival. A single imaginative set, designed by Jeff Garcia, serves as castle and countryside.

One of the most outstanding devices used throughout this production of “Macbeth” is the sound. Effects range from ominous, primitive drums to Elizabethan singing by members of the festival-associated Madrigal Revelers, to eerie vocals reminiscent of the Gyorgi Ligeti choral work in “2001: A Space Odyssey"--here used as atmosphere for the witches.

The actresses playing the witches, Debra Massarella, Christine Couvillion and Jaye Hersh, are members of the Madrigal Revelers, here costumed and bewigged to look something like a trio of contemporary rock singers. Perhaps they would consider taking the Weird Sisters on the road. Also rather punkish in attitude are the three murderers hired to do some of Macbeth’s dirty work; Hugh McManigal, James Leslie and David Douglas play them something like a modern youth gang, to good effect.

* WHERE AND WHEN

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“Macbeth” concludes this weekend at Libbey Bowl in Ojai’s Libbey Park. Performances are Friday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Nonreserved seats are $10 on Friday and Sunday; $12 on Saturday, with a $2 discount available for seniors and students. Children under 13 are admitted free. It’s outdoors and on hard seats; plan accordingly. For reservations or further information, call (805) 646-9455.


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