Reduced to its barest bones, Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is really a barn-burning melodrama, a pre-Gothic horror tale with dark corners, dripping blood and raw emotions. It's also one of those classic dramas that lend themselves to inventive staging.
That's what has happened in a visually interesting revival of the classic play at the Waltmar Theatre at Chapman University in Orange.
Director Thomas Bradac has opted for a fairly representational version of the text, without too many surprises, but he has surrounded it with an eclectic, and often fascinating, framework that sometimes includes acting exercises, ensemble speech and evocative lighting effects designed by Paul R. DeDoes.
Out of the milling ensemble movements that open the production, swirling figures move as though by centripetal force toward the center of a circle and surround three actors, stripping their nondescript outer clothing off to reveal the three Witches (Adriana Chavez, Leandra McCormick, Jago Soria), adding costume highlights and accessories that turn them into something from a Madonna video. The effect is technically and textually sound. The Witches' speeches are also spoken in tandem by the ensemble, giving the effect of a Witches' Sabbath, and one can imagine these shadowy figures weaving in and out of a Scottish Stonehenge.
Sometimes the basic costume of camouflage pants and olive drab T-shirts are embellished by long vests, flowing capes, webbing and metal harnesses for armor, but this is only a hint at period. The production is without time, which points up the relevance of the political struggles going on within it. One side, the Macbeths, savagely strikes out to discredit their foes; the only slightly tainted other side may be less vocal but knows how to govern wisely. It's an echo of today's headlines.
Most cast members deliver lines without undue mishap. The players in major roles treat the verse as ordinary dialogue, giving credence and honesty to their delivery.
Raymund Manukay's Macbeth, without delving too much into detail and subtext, is a forthright and honestly confused political parvenu. He doesn't understand his failures, thinking he's totally right to begin with, and especially in his "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech on hearing of Lady Macbeth's death, Manukay has a reserve and a distracted air that is effective.
Erin Davis' Lady Macbeth is a little more intricate. In the beginning, she is a politically conscious woman, liberated for her day, and as eager for her husband's political climb as he is--and as unconscious of its demands. By the time she wanders aimlessly onstage with her candle in the famous mad scene, she has disintegrated into a remnant of her former self. A very nice transition, well-played.
Anthony Powell's Banquo is properly a bureaucratic hustler, but he is overshadowed by Andy Moran's impressive Macduff. Moran is violent in his opposition to Macbeth but then is stunned into stupor at the news of the slaughter of his wife and children. Kimberly Kennedy Blair's Lady Macduff is well-tempered in her brief but varied emotional pitches. Heather Persinger is effective as a rather stately Duncan and very funny as the drunken Porter in clown costume and bulbous red nose.
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Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, 301 E. Palm, Orange. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $8. (714) 997-6812. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
Raymund Manukay: Macbeth
Erin Davis: Lady Macbeth
Anthony Powell: Banquo/Mentith
Andy Moran: Macduff
Brandon Leighton: Malcolm
Heather Persinger: Duncan/Porter
Kimberly Kennedy Blair: Lady Macduff
Adriana Chavez: Witch 1 / Murderer
Leandra McCormick: Witch 2 / Murderer
Jago Soria: Witch 3 / Murderer
A Chapman University theater and dance department production of Shakespeare's tragedy. Directed by Thomas Bradac. Scenery/lighting design: Paul R. DeDoes. Costume design: Christine Walters-Murphy. Sound design: Craig Wesley Brown. Makeup design: Cynthia Wilson. Fight choreography: Christopher Villa. Stage manager: Kristin Randall.