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[whitespace] 'Macbeth' Plotters: Paul Whitworth and Mhari Sandoval conspire against the king in 'Macbeth.'

A Way to Dusty Death

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's "Macbeth" is full of sound and fury--and some of the finest examples of the English language

By Christina Waters

FOR SHEER ELOQUENCE, few artistic works can rival Macbeth, Shakespeare's seemingly indestructible exploration of power, ambition and revenge. Through its deathless lines unfolds a study of the psychology of paranoia and guilt, shot through with the delicious strangeness of superstitions about witchcraft, curses and prophecy lurking in the late 16th-century European sensibility.

In the dark, claustrophobic set designed by Scott Bradley, last week's Shakespeare Santa Cruz audience watched the tale unfold--a tale, at least the way it was written, full not only of sound and fury but also the saga of a Scottish lord, whose rise to the throne is predicted by three witches.

As Macbeth, Paul Whitworth takes the stage with bravado and clarity, a man anxious to resume the normal pace of life after his wartime mission abroad. King Duncan (Armon Stover, croaking hoarsely to the point of unintelligibility) delivers the news that the first prophecy has indeed come true and that Macbeth has been made Thane of Cawdor.

Macbeth is at once seized with "horrible imaginings," musing on the possibility that the other predictions may come true as well. That he, Macbeth, will be king and yet that his friend Banquo (Gary Armagnac) will be the father of kings. Upon hearing of the prediction, Macbeth's wife decides to hasten king Duncan's demise, and together with her reluctant husband plans the bloody deed.

"Come, thick Night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell." Lady Macbeth, as every high school student knows, is the engine driving the murderous action to come. It is she who asks to be filled with "direst cruelty," who plans the unfolding sequence of murders and who urges her husband, when his nerve fails, to screw his courage to the sticking place. In short, Lady Macbeth is the central powerhouse of cunning and chutzpah. Or at least she must be in order for this play to work.

It doesn't because--among other things--she isn't.

Served by his intelligence and graceful stagecraft, Whitworth always knows what his character is about, using his exceptional range and vocal nuance to explore the psychic darkness of his character's fears, misgivings and growing thirst for power.

Yet he appears to have wandered in from another play, finding himself suddenly surrounded by a cast of young amateurs (many of whom are Equity members!) who either wring their hands and whine, or sputter, spit and shout their lines.

So swallowed and yelled is most of the poetry--a tragedy unto itself--that this production should have been provided with subtitles. In Mhari Sandoval we have anathema in the form of a whining, pleading, sobbing Lady Macbeth. The power source of all the action is a clinging crybaby. Surely this is the fault of a director who scarcely seems to have provided more than a storyboard for the production.

Also unsure as to why he is onstage is Armagnac, whose stances and preenings seem to have become generic tics, rather than motivated responses to the action onstage. The worst casting gaff is our Macduff (Triney Sandoval). Instead of being Macbeth's worst nightmare, this is an actor whose response to "deepening" emotion, is to yell his lines a bit louder, flinging another spray of saliva onto the front-row audience.

Where was director Michael Edwards? Where is the sense of growing, developing greed and thirst for power? With most of the males of the cast clad in handsome but obfuscating black uniforms, it is difficult to tell who's who. Much in the way of juicy intrigue lies fallow, undone by irresponsible direction and an embarrassing unevenness of performance skills.

Even Whitworth looked weary by the end of the three-hour performance, unable to rouse any freshness from the hallowed "out, out brief candle" speech. Only when actors understand their lines and motivation, do you have the possibility for dramatic tension. Lacking these, you have a tale told by an idiot.

Last Saturday night's audience was yawning by the play's "climax." Limp and devoid of any dramatic tension--save that provided by the magnificent words (when they could be deciphered)--this production of Macbeth stands as a send-off for Whitworth and a mere shadow of past performance glory.

Macbeth plays in repertory through Sept. 2 at the UC-Santa Cruz Performing Arts Mainstage. (831.459.2159)

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From the August 1-8, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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