By Josh Edelson
By Chris Hall
By Jonathan Curiel
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Mollie McWilliams
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Browner
Macbeth. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Tony Taccone. Starring Carl Lumbly and L. Scott Caldwell. At the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison in Berkeley, through April 4. Call (510) 845-4700.
Nobody needs another review about the magnificence of Macbeth. We need it less than the rest of the world, in fact, because if the Berkeley Rep had opened its version four nights earlier there would have been three Macbeths playing concurrently just in the East Bay. (That blows Hamlet out of the water.) Shakespeare's tragedy about a general ascending the Scottish throne by killing the king has so much vivid staging and death a modern American audience will gladly sit enthralled even when the language gets murky. It has a ghost, like Hamlet, and soothsaying agents of fate, like Oedipus Rex; but the play is also less simple than it seems, and lots of companies have failed to get it right.
The Berkeley Rep doesn't have that problem. Director Tony Taccone plays his theater's small triangular stage like an instrument, balancing noise and silence with a careful ear cocked toward the play's "mystery," as he has called it, and the effect is a gripping show. Three near-naked gray figures lie on the stage as the audience files in, corpselike under thin streams of sand until the lights lower and they start to chant: When shall we three meet again/ In thunder, lightning, or in rain? The Weird Women! Shakespeare's prophetic witches! They don't look like hags or stir a pot, but they really are weird: One climbs a rope upside down while Macbeth tries to ask for advice. These innovations could be carried too far, but Taccone makes them work with a nicely tuned talent for strangeness.
The quiet witch interludes are balanced with noisy fight scenes. There are clocking sticks, scraping knives, and soldiers falling against the metal side of Macbeth's castle whenever a battle needs a thundering drumbeat. All of it is well-choreographed and folded into the rhythm of the script. The actors' sense of rhythm is also there, and Carl Lumbly plays Macbeth with a fine strong presence, speaking his monologues with leashed emotion and inhabiting the conflicted king in all the crucial scenes, especially the dinner when Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost. I say "inhabiting" because sometimes the antiquated lines sound stiff and uninhabited, not just in Lumbly's mouth but in everyone's, but that's a constant problem with Shakespeare and it only surfaces here in less important dialogue.
The way to tell that this Macbeth succeeds, though, is the fact that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (L. Scott Caldwell) are black, and by the end of the play this deviation means nothing: It doesn't disturb Shakespeare's story, which says something about Shakespeare; it doesn't distract from the characters, which says something about Lumbly and Caldwell; and it doesn't remind you at all of O.J. Simpson, which is a sign that Taccone has enough respect for the mystery of his play to skate around disastrous parallels.
The boy-meets-girl formula of Romeo and Juliet needs frequent reinvention, whether by Bernstein (in West Side Story) or Baz (Luhrmann, in the recent MTV-styled film), to keep an audience tuned in. The gay self-discovery plot, having become its own genre, requires similar ingenuity. Unfortunately, Virgins and Other Myths, a one-man autobiography, runs through the sexual-awakening tale like a football playbook used by the locker-room lotharios lusted after in the show. It's no longer shocking that the All-American wide receiver is, well, a wide receiver, but Virgins and Other Myths plays the game.
Delivering this lengthy monologue is Andrew Nance as Colin, who becomes a child actor, has romping sex with a local neighbor boy, isn't picked for the kickball team, and then transforms himself into a high school athletic hero. The jock takes a liking to minor Broadway musicals and is plagued with thoughts of Judy Garland on Super Bowl Sunday. Molestation by a mentor prompts a suicide attempt and institutionalization; Colin has an AIDS scare, but he continues on a downward spiral into sex addiction and hustling.
This intensely predictable plot is punctuated with appearances by a Dickensian ghost, an ex-lover who admonishes Colin for his fuck-and-run habits. It's all somewhat balanced by director Edward Decker's dynamic blocking: Nance shuffles the square set pieces around like Legos and uses every possible level of the performance space. He is energetic throughout the show, but displays a certain hesitancy in the more personal moments, a pitfall of performing someone else's overwrought piece. Humans share certain milestones on the road to sexual identity, from the Milton Bradley board game of toying with our sex organs to the big score that is the loss of our virginity. While this commonality of experience has a cuddly, humanistic feel, it doesn't necessarily make for inventive theater. Colin Martin's play sadly suggests there are few varietals in the evolution of any sexual orientation, whether boy-meets-girl or boy-meets-boy; the epic monologue is a reminder of how repetitive our romantic lives are.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city