Had William Shakespeare been an early-21st-century playwright from Edinburgh rather than a late-16th-century dramatist in London, he might well have approached the story of the 11th-century King of the Scots, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, the way that David Greig takes in his irony-infused 2010 history play, Dunsinane. And that is to never mention the protagonist of the Scottish Play at all.
Rather, Greig cannily opens with the offstage beheading of the king in order to focus on the arguably more bewitching character of his surviving queen, Gruoch ingen Boite (Siobhan Redmond), as she assumes leadership of the stubborn Scottish resistance to the English occupational forces led by Siward, Earl of Northumbria (Darrell D’Silva).
Instead of the Bard’s affirmation of the divine right of kings, what emerges in director Roxana Silbert’s stately touring production (on Robert Innes Hopkins’ limestone, stepped-pyramid set) is both a meditation on the fractiousness of Scottish national identity and a rather explicit anti-war allegory about the inhuman costs of more recent interventions in places like Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Though Greig overreaches in his compunction to tell the story of the medieval English grunts along with that of their commanders, Dunsinane’s somewhat long-winded medicine is helped down by sterling performances from Redmond and D’Silva, and a nicely louche turn by Ewan Donald as the effetely Machiavellian King Malcolm.
The National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; through April 5. (310) 746-4000, thewallis.org.
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