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An all-too-brief Macbeth

Toby Zinman of Philadelphia Inquirer

What a hacking and hewing has transpired here. I don't mean Macbeth's carnage, but what Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre has done to Shakespeare's script. To bring a five-act play in under 90 minutes is a rare butchery indeed.

"The Scottish play," as it is known to theater people - superstition has it that to pronounce the name of the play inside a theater is to invite doom - is about a mighty warrior who meets three witches in the forest (here, there's only one witch, but OK) predicting that he will become kind of Scotland. This rouses his ambition - and, moreso, his wife's - and when King Duncan comes to stay at their castle, they kill him while he sleeps.

Torment follows coronation: Regicide is a big deal, as is bloody murder. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, despite their fierce attempts to keep it all together, find that heinous deeds require more heinous deeds, and, ultimately both go mad. These are two summit roles requiring powerful actors who are capable of subtlety as well as spectacular histrionics. Unfortunately, neither Ron Heneghan nor Christie Parker is up to the enormous task.

Heneghan's Macbeth seems to be a dolt who recites his lines rather than speaks them as felt language; he often creates odd gaps between words, making nonsense of the syntax. Parker's Lady Macbeth is a scenery chewer.

The other major characters are, despite the fight choreography, unconvincing as warriors; as Banquo, John Zak, a successful comic actor, talks between clenched teeth, while John Greenbaum's Macduff goes from 0 to 60 emotionally during his absurdly abbreviated scene when he discovers the murders of his wife and children, depriving it of its heartwrenching power.

The rest of the production - two years in the preparation, according to director Carmen Khan's program notes - focuses on the non-verbal elements. Composer Melissa Dunphy has provided a soundscape for an assortment of exotic instruments played onstage: a Chinese ehru, Tibetan ringing bowls, and a varity of drums and gongs. The result not only heightens the atmosphere of the play, but in fact signals how we're supposed to feel about the action.

Jerrold R. Forsyth's lighting design is also illustrative, flipping between warm and cold for "reality" and "insanity." The costumes (designed by Vicki Esposito) are very handsome.

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