Reviewed by Martin Hernandez
The Second Stage at Sacred Fools Theatre
Through May 13
Actor/director Jack Stehlin’s ambitious yet bare-boned take on William Shakespeare’s tale of murder and madness offers some innovative choices in staging and casting. The Three Witches, as in the Bard’s days, are played by males (Brendan Brandt, Dennis Gersten and Jordan Lund) and are dressed as priests, in stoles and birettas, symbolizing a more satanic than Christian deity. And some male roles are portrayed by females, such as Macbeth’s fellow general Banquo (Suzan Zeigler), Malcolm (Jade Sealey) and Donaldbain (Jenny Lerner), the doomed King Duncan’s (David Purdham) sons.
Stehlin presents a sturdy Macbeth, at first convincingly reluctant to heed Lady Macbeth’s (Vanessa Waters) plea that he kill Duncan and accede to Scotland’s throne, then later wholeheartedly throwing himself into the mayhem and his own lunacy. Waters’ turn as Lady Macbeth is somewhat rushed for my taste, but she still presents a formidable presence as a woman devoted to her unholy crusade. However, Patrick Vest seems little moved as Macduff when informed of a family tragedy that would devastate even the most hardened warrior.
Robert Broadfoot’s set features chairs festooned in red with curtains in black, and a large circle embedded with a cross-like symbol painted on the stage, evocative of a Nazi swastika or a Ku Klux Klan insignia — chilling touches for our current times. And the actors’ uncredited whiteface makeup and eyeliner (costumes and makeup by Kitty Rose) add another macabre twist to the Bard’s tortured tale. Derrick McDaniel’s moody lighting and John Farmanesh-Bocca’s eerie sound design enhance Stehlin’s offering, though at times the performer’s lip-syncing to ominous recordings of dialogue were reminiscent of the behind-the-screen intonations of Frank Morgan in The Wizard of Oz.
While the gender-blind casting is an intriguing touch, there is no colorblind casting, save for Cesar Sebastian’s turn as Macbeth’ loyal but conflicted servant. In a city as racially diverse as Los Angeles, that’s surprising and unfortunate.
The Second Stage at the Sacred Fools Theatre, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, 90038; Fri. – Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 13. (310) 484-2980 or info@NewAmericanTheatre.com. Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission.