It’s no wonder that William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the most-produced of his tragedies. “The Scottish play” has all the elements that have appealed to broad audiences for over 400 years: weird witches, exciting battles, blind ambition and violent murders, with the doubt, brooding, and madness that follows — and the comeuppance and retribution that sets things right in the end.
And it has much more. Macbeth contains some of Shakespeare’s most eloquent language and memorable soliloquies.
As directed by Victor Malana Maog, Cal Shake’s rendition of Macbeth succeeds admirably. The sword action is exciting, the witches are scary (although their atmospheric echoes make it tougher to understand them), and there is enough blood shed (and thrown with a pail, for that matter) to reinforce the theatrically of the work.
The set (scenic design by Adam Rigg), a novel and striking two-story construction of Plexiglas and open spaces appears simultaneously modern and medieval. The actors generally sparkle and maintain the right balance between moving the plot along quickly and reciting the brilliant words of the Bard slowly enough so that the audience can actually hear and appreciate them.
One of the difficulties in performing the role of Macbeth (Rey Lucas) is to present him as an outwardly self-confident and ruthless warrior who is ready to kill to slake his ambition, yet leave room in the portrayal to reveal his inward insecurity and willingness to be manipulated by his wife. It is left to Lady Macbeth (Liz Sklar) to push her husband past his hesitations. In this production, Lady Macbeth is a little short on the necessary ruthlessness. She is much more compelling when her guilt and madness overwhelms her, as while performing the famous “Out, damned spot! out, I say! …” scene.
Macbeth, on the other hand, comes across as a bit too likable at times to wind up with his severed head in a bag. I almost felt sorry for him as he realizes that he has been taken in by the three witches.
Of the supporting roles, Warren David Keith, plays a regal King Duncan and a funny drunken porter with real Shakespearean aplomb. And, as Macduff, Dane Troy acts with convincing shock and pathos when he learns that his wife and children have been slaughtered: “All my pretty ones? /Did you say “all”? … What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ At one fell swoop?”
This is the last production for Cal Shakes this season. If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of Shakespeare under the stars, accompanied perhaps by a picnic supper, by all means go.
Macbeth is playing at the outdoor California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda through Oct. 13. Cal Shakes advises its audience to dress warmly in layers as the temperature may dip down during evening performances. Blankets are available for a $2 donation. The complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART begins two hours before curtain. Tickets: $20-$94, with discounts for seniors, youth, students, military families, persons age 30 and under and groups (subject to change). For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Cal Shakes online or telephone 510-548-9666.