By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Macbeth is, of course, an actor’s play, because Shakespeare is where crime gets personal. It’s also where murder and treason become less excusable, because by the time of the Renaissance, secular reason had banished the superstitious shadows that cloaked the felonies of mortals with Olympian virtue — evil was becoming banal. The Thane of Cawdor murders and murders again because of “vaulting ambition,” not because some oracle suggested it might be the right thing to do. And when he says, “I have almost forgot the taste of fears,” he’s referring as much to the vestigial constraints of religion and the terror of damnation as to the more immediate dangers of swordplay. Macbeth may still grapple with the notion of unavoidable destiny, raised when the three witches goad and flatter him with omens of success, and he may feel himself to be a prisoner of fate, but there’s not a jury in Elizabethan England that would buy such a defense.
In the last of Shakespeare’s greater tragedies, we also discover the ancestor of all black widows, Lady Macbeth. When she shores up her husband’s faltering nerve before the slaying of King Duncan, she echoes Electra’s insistence that Clytemnestra must die; but there are just as many ripples in Lady M’s speech radiating toward a future when couples conspire on telephones and in cocktail lounges to kill husbands, bosses or wives in the name of love or double-indemnity insurance policies. This unholy pair of Scots, as murderous as they are, still look out hopefully from the defense table searching for an empathetic audience-jury.
Circus Theatricals’ production of Macbeth, directed by Casey Biggs at the Odyssey Theater, looks the way a Scottish play should — dark, sleek and sculpted by deceptively reductive technical skill. Set designer Diane Marie Taylor hangs a large burnished orb over the action, a bloodied sun-moon symbol
that reflects each scene’s mood while serving as a projection screen for lighting designer Timothy Kiley’s flickering videos. Finally, James Haycock costumes the characters in black leather and dark fabrics, lending the proceedings a timeless- contemporary feel.
The troupe is a serious group, and Macbethis not something you mount because you happen to have a lot of leather coats lying around. For all that, though, we never quite understand why the company is putting on this play at this time. Although the evening rolls along swiftly on Taylor’s flying platforms, there seems no urgency to the action. Even the reliable Jack Stehlin seems a little off his game as Macbeth (we neither feel that he’s a warrior nor believe that he’s a calculating climber), and Libby West is merely credible as his wife. Of the ensemble players, only Fintan McKeown fiercely owns his role, as Macduff, and, for that matter, could probably play any of the evening’s male parts well.
In the end, what’s missing is an underlying theory behind this Macbeth. The murderous couple are neither archvillains nor victims of their own delusions, nor a pair of vapid Ceausescus. A Noise Within’s 2002 production of the same play captured both the blood and the political guts of this too-human story, but something is missing in Biggs’ production. Maybe it’s a heart — or rather, the emptiness that lies at the heart of all murder.
ELECTRA| By EURIPIDES | At A NOISE WITHIN, 234 S. Brand Ave., Glendale | Through May 15 | (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1
MACBETH | By WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE | CIRCUS THEATRICALS at the ODYSSEY THEATER, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Through April 18 | (310) 477-2055