Launching its third season of free outdoor productions, the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival's impressive staging of "Macbeth" maintains the company's commitment to thorough professionalism in the remote confines of the California Lutheran campus. A fine cast and high production values forcefully render Shakespeare's most sinister tragedy in all its creepy splendor, without recourse to gimmicky conceits or exotic resettings.
Lane Davies, a commanding presence, is entirely convincing in the title role of Shakespeare's bloodstained usurper. Where many actors commit early to an interpretation of Macbeth as either a thoroughly black heart or a valiant soldier undone by lust and ambition, Davies maintains a deep-seated ambivalence. Although the witches' evil prophesies strike a resonant chord in him, this Macbeth's lingering vacillation is born not of weakness but of loyalty divided between his own self-interest and his King (stately Robert Nairn, who also strikes a comic note as a befuddled Doctor). The choice adds intriguing complexity and, in combination with Davies' assured delivery, serves the text well.
As his dark Lady, Ruth Cordell is a formidable power in her own right, chilling as she implores the gods to "unsex" her of womanly compassion, and haunting in her eventual madness. Accepting her destruction with an almost blank lack of affect, Macbeth stands in the end a hollow cinder incapable of feeling--a striking choice, though the flatness blunts the impact of the "Out, out brief candle" speech.
The weak link in a solid supporting cast is Derek Medina, who manages only a one-note Macduff; his perpetual surliness--rather than his flight to England--seems to have sent his wife (poignant K. Leigh Sandness) into the arms of his cousin (earnest Terry Fishman).
Director Michael J. Arndt utilizes the park setting to great advantage, opening the piece with a rousing battle that flanks the audience. The staging is furthered with atmospheric flourishes (such as wraithlike spirits rising from the bodies of slain soldiers), and original music by Rick Rhodes is delivered through a notably high-quality outdoor sound system. Michael Roehr's elaborate, forbidding castle set and Lolita Ball's austere costumes help transport us back to ancient Scotland.
It's a lengthy ride, however, with only the lawn at your backside, unless you snag one of the very limited reserved seats. Attendees are encouraged to bring comfortable seating and warm clothes--not all the chills are confined to the stage.
"Macbeth," Kingsmen Park, California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. Friday and Saturday, July 17 and 18, 8 p.m. Ends July 18. Free lawn space; limited reserved seating, $10. (805) 493-3415. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.