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Let's Play Two

THEATER REVIEW: Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mark Cofta of Philadelphia Citypaper

Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's spring repertory is an inspired pairing of familiar classics: Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream, both staged by artistic director Carmen Khan.

Both play to the scripts' strengths, flowing briskly on Adam Riggar's elegant thrust stage, but considerably streamlined in Khan's careful pruning. A young acting company does double duty, led by Christie Parker and Ron Heneghan as the royal couples.

Midsummer is, as expected, the crowd-pleaser, with witty performances by John Zak as Bottom and John Greenbaum, Michael Cosenza, Ethan Lipkin, Johnny Smith and Jarrod Yuskauskas as his lovable bumpkin pals producing a play for Duke Theseus and Hippolyta's nuptials. The four lovers — Chris Braak, Kathryn Raines, John Jarboe and Kate Russell — frolic earnestly, confounded by Mary Tuomanen's lecherous clown-fairy, Puck.

Macbeth shows Khan's willingness to experiment, focusing on Macbeth and his wife in a 90-minute paring driven by Melissa Dunphy's beautifully haunting music.

In both plays, Parker convincingly commands the stage. Her Lady Macbeth pushes her ambitious husband into madness, and her fairy queen Titania proves graceful and sensuous — but her best moments come silently as Hippolyta, who in Midsummer listens in dismay to her fiancé, Theseus, condemn young Hermia to death or a nunnery because she won't marry her father's choice.

Both productions are beautifully designed, anchored by Riggar's wooden floor (though too light for Macbeth's gloom), skillfully lit by Jerold R. Forsyth. Vickie Esposito creates sleek military costumes for Macbeth and a Midsummer color palette that begins in silvers and grays, then explodes with color as magical forces grow daring.

Conceived as an inviting introduction to Shakespeare for the wary, PST's repertory offers fresh but clear interpretations in lengths calculated for modern tastes. Purists will miss favorite lines and scenes, especially in Macbeth, but novices will leave invigorated.

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