By John Farrell, Theatre Critic
Like his play, Hamlet, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is so filled with memorable lines, memorable speeches, that seeing it onstage is a little bit of an English quiz. The Witches? Who can forget “Double, double, toil and trouble”? How about Lady Macbeth’s unforgettable hand-washing. Or Birnam Wood? Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s unforgettable stories, a bloody tragedy that might make John Webster envious and with poetry and psychological insight into ambition-driven lives that Webster never managed.
Called “The Scottish Play” by actor’s inside the theater (because the play is supposedly cursed by the real witches Shakespeare quoted in the text) Macbeth is a story of violence set in the middle of a war. Unfortunately that war is remarkably constrained in the bleak single-set created for Macbeth at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre– a mixture of black pseudo-trees and uneven lighting–makes the play’s almost three hour (virtually uncut) run time a little hard to handle. And the large scale fight scenes lack any semblance of reality. Why are armed men fighting with entrenching tools, anyway? Director Nicole Dominguez placed the play not in Scotland, but in a dateless time where the fearful reality of Macbeth doesn’t quite come across. Add to this three witches who are more cheerful and comic than scary (doing knock-knock jokes with the audience) and the result is an imbalanced whole, part fearful tragedy, part drawing room farce.
Still, there are some standout performances. Blaire Chandler is a knockout as Lady Macbeth, the kind of woman a man might chance anything, even bloody murder for. And when she is finally destroyed by her remorse, she is as passionate and powerful in her madness as she was in her lust. Jonathan Lamer is a long and lean Macbeth, and his speeches are delights language, each one astonishing in its own way. When he sits at the side of the stage and whispers the last words of his final soliloquy you are forced by the emotion of the moment to listen in perfect, concentrated silence. Jason Denuszek is a straightforward, upright Macduff until he finds that Macbeth has killed his entire family, then he breaks down and becomes revenge-maddened as well.
The three witches, Whitton Frank, Jennie Sheffield and Sarah Green, are funny and delightful and, frankly, a little out of place, Shakespeare lived in a time when men still believed in the dark arts, and there should be more bewitching going on, and less Bewitched.
Still, this is an exciting event for the Studio Theatre, an experiment that deserves repeating.
Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, $14 for students. Performances are Friday, July 27 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 29 at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Saturday, August 18.
Details: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre
Location: 5021E. Anaheim St., Long Beach