You know theater has entered its Halloween season when Macbett,
Eugene Ionesco’s late-career take on the Scottish play, opens in black light
with a horror-movie score, and as Shakespeare’s Highland hellhound is wordlessly
welcomed into existence by only two weird sisters who have emerged from a trapdoor.
This eerie prologue, in which Macbett, lifelessly seated on a throne, appears
more like the dead Christ in a Deposition painting than the vigorous Thane of
Glamis, suggests the territory we’re to cover tonight — Dark Ages realpolitik
dampened by the mists of magic and superstition.

Ionesco’s 1972 play is rarely produced professionally (UCLA mounted
a technologically elaborate version three years ago) and is not considered one
of his more important works. Still, Il Dolce Theater Company and Spirit of Sarajevo
are to be complimented for staging this effort at the Globe Playhouse. Director
Neno Pervan, editing down Charles Marowitz’s translation of the original French,
explores the comedy and pretense Ionesco found in Shakespeare’s solemn characters,
while sometimes reverently quoting from the Bard’s original text. In this story,
both Macbett (Zoran Radanovich) and his comrade in arms, Banco (Julius Noflin),
are made mad with visions of power upon hearing the witches’ prophecies. In
fact, everyone involved is either after power or buffoonishly trying to hold
on to it. King Duncan (Pervan), seen here as a cowardly bully dressed in a shiny,
lime-green Teddy Boy outfit (or is it a zoot suit?), is an obnoxious boor who’s
constantly shoving the queen off his throne.

Photo by Milena Pervan

Which leads us to one of Ionesco’s additions to the script -—
Lady Duncan (Pamela Clay). She is a cunning, conniving bitch who marries Glamis
to become Lady Macbett. Our potential confusion doesn’t matter since the two
women meld into the same malignant spirit goading Macbett to murder his benefactor
and, later, Banco. To Ionesco, Macbett’s murder of his king overshadows everything;
Lady M’s death, Birnan wood, the concluding swordplay are all afterthoughts
to the regicidal theme.

In Macbeth’s brutality, we can discern a cleaving apart
of Shakespeare’s more enlightened world, as though in the fossil record of pre-Norman
Britain stirs a dream of government that serves a common good, as opposed to
mere blood sport. This notion runs elsewhere in popular cultures — Eisenstein’s
film Aleksandr Nevsky opens on a brooding landscape whose inhabitants
seem nearly primordial, yet ends with Nevsky’s appeal to justice and progress.
However, in Macbett, the Romanian-born Ionesco, looking back in time
past the refinement of constitutions and parliaments, is fascinated with the
primitive urges that still lie at the heart of virtually all modern conflicts.
Pervan, attuned to this, presents a kingdom uneasily lit with flickering candles
and governed by a belief in witches. In a sense, he combines Macbeth with Ceausescu,
and Scotland with Transylvania, drawing out of the mad forest of European villainy
a narcotic faith in selfish violence.

These themes have a track record: Ron Magid’s pulpily political
history Dracula Tyrannus played at this same venue in 1988, and indeed
when in Bram Stoker’s Dracula the Count dismisses modern Continental
treaties as “these days of dishonorable peace,” he may well be looking
nostalgically at Macbeth’s Scotland and Nevsky’s bloodied Russia. The Globe,
with its two-tiered set, balcony and Tudor windows, lends itself to demagogic
nightmares. None of this is to suggest that Macbett is a gruesome meditation
on power politics — if anything, it’s more of a Rocky Horror Show
meets Ubu Roi, complete with Ionescoan touches: A grizzled man (Alexander
Veadov) sells lemonade from his wheelchair, a little boy (Andrej Pervan) with
a butterfly net searches for Macbett. And, for pure nuttiness, Duncan is murdered
on Animal Healing Day, an annual holiday on which the king cures the local livestock
and pets of their ailments. (A significant change from Ionesco’s original scene.)

Director Pervan gets some good performances from his cast, notably
Radanovich and Clay, and his production benefits from Slavko Pervan’s spartan
set that, nevertheless, places a guillotine behind Duncan’s chair (talk about
your throne of blood), while Mladen Milicevic’s cheesy synth-goth score recalls
Euro-horror films of the 1970s. In the end, this is a story about a man who
murders another for his coat and crown, while forgetting the woman who made
his ascent possible. After Macbett meets death, his corpse is carried and caressed
by women to the throne with its awaiting blade — perhaps that is the absurdest
touch of all.

You have to hand it to David T. Chantler: As a writer,
the man certainly knows how to build expectations — and to puncture them. He
throws all the right ingredients into his play A Word With Orlando (exotic
locale, dysfunctional marriage, puppet metaphors), only to squander them in
a ponderous and nearly unintelligible evening. New Yorkers Steven and Elaine
Maddox are apartment hunting in Sicily (has Manhattan gotten that expensive?),
but decide to buy a villa instead. Chantler is a bit cagey about the couple’s
motivations — something about Steven (Nat Christian) having sold “his company”
and Elaine (Molly Weber) needing a place to write.

As the couple sets up housekeeping, the entire neighborhood seems
to move in with them. There’s the realtor, a roofer, a gardener and his wife,
a hotelier, an egg lady, a shop owner and the next-door neighbor — an old British
expatriate named Miles (Jacob Witkin) whose housewarming gift is a puppet of
Orlando Furioso, the legendary medieval knight. Miles is an avuncular encourager
given to calling Steven “old boy” every other line and lamenting his
lover Perceval’s death in a mountain-climbing incident. We quickly surmise something
is wrong with this picture, however. Elaine plays the buoyant, American signora
whom the locals adore, but moody Steven is a stick-in-the-mud fumbler who must
ask the roofer (Charley Rossman) to show him how to operate his new tape player.

Worse, Elaine cannot get her husband to display any kind of affection
toward her. (Really worse, he talks to the puppet a lot.) Instead, Steven
robotically mumbles that outward emotion and expressions of love just aren’t
in his DNA. How this will all play out isn’t in question, since Orlando
is told in flashback and opens with Steven preparing to sell the villa after
living there for two years — alone. The problem with the story that follows
is that there isn’t one. Instead, for nearly 130 minutes Chantler presents seven
very similar scenes in which half the town invariably reassembles itself in
the Maddoxes’ living room and argues about where the new couch should go.

Eventually Carla (Roberta Orlandi), a local shopkeeper whom Elaine
befriends, shows up and suddenly there’s focus — and a noticeable temperature
rise in the theater. As played by Orlandi, Carla is the devil in a blue dress,
which, in Act 2, promisingly turns red. Yet nothing comes of the sultry Carla’s
flirtatious moves around Steven. Either Mr. Maddox is extremely virtuous or
more seriously asocial than even he realizes.

There are certainly questions raised during the evening about
Steven’s lack of ardor (gay? impotent? Asperger’s syndrome?) and the deeper
reasons behind old Miles’ recurring lamentations about Perceval. But questions
by themselves don’t make a mystery, especially when the author seems to willfully
throw away opportunities to draw us into the Maddoxes’ world (why did they ever
marry in the first place?), and when some improbable resolutions surface at
play’s end.

Director Judy Rose doesn’t help Orlando’s credibility much,
either. Some of her “Sicilians” speak in a mamma mia! vaudeville
impersonation of Italian English and there are gaps of dead air between Steven
and Elaine when their dialogues should snap and overlap. While Weber’s character
is genuinely likable, Christian’s monotone reading of Steven is tenuous at best
and, on opening night, he had not yet settled into his lines. During the critical
housewarming scene, canned guitar music inexplicably vies with conversations
and, even more puzzling, Danny Truxaw’s villa set has a pile of stone steps
obstructing a living-room archway — suggesting that either the Maddoxes are
expecting suicide bombers or director Rose wants her actors to take their time
with entrances. Either way, Orlando’s obstacles add up to a lot of downtime
in the theater.

MACBETT | By EUGENE IONESCO | Il Dolce Theater Company
at the GLOBE PLAYHOUSE, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood | Through December
12 | (310) 458-3312

THEATER, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles | Through December 19 | (310)

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