Stage

Scot Free
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.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Sex Life
Virgins and Other Myths. By Colin Martin. Directed by Edward Decker. Starring Andrew Nance. At the New Conservatory Theater Center, 25 Van Ness, through March 15. Call 861-8972.

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.

-- Julie Chase

Love Buzz
St. Valentine's Midnight Masquerade Debauch. Created by Chim Jordon and Dave Normal. At the Jewelry Store, 259 Mission, Feb. 14.

There's theater, that ancient and polite art form wherein you trade cash for a ticket to sit in the dark and watch a handful of people recite lines and pretend to have meaningful experiences that somehow -- via catharsis, empathy, or various other psychological metaphysics -- are supposed to become your experiences. But why does the theater purchased with a square ticket -- even when the action onstage is flawless -- so rarely captivate? In the real world, the smallest thing can thrill. The coiffed theater of Aunt Mildred's beehive; the furtive theater of gang youth silently staking out their turf; the chaotic theater of a Ghanaian funeral. That outside theater almost always involves something intense, amusing, or surprising; why doesn't the indoor version?

That was the question twirling in my brain as I left "St. Valentine's Midnight Masquerade Debauch," a one-night interactive performance event created by Chim Jordon and Dave Normal. This show, the equivalent of real peach after years of canned fruit cocktail, reminded me that the old unprocessed theatricality of the world can still infuse live performance. We approached the large warehouse space at about 10 p.m., and were greeted with shouts and a hail of beer bottles crashing down a flight of stairs. Tumbling after them was a goateed youth pursued by bouncers. He released a cloud of pepper spray and then ran off. "Just hold your breaths as you enter!" said a bouncer. "Everything is under control!" Our nostrils burning, we made our way through several rooms decorated in punk-Victorian style before joining a crowd waiting at the top of a stairway marked "Tunnel of Love." At the bottom of the stairs we stepped through a giant foam-rubber vagina into an interactive space of mythical love creatures and sex spirits -- each intent on engaging the guests in his or her own peculiar reality.

Just past the labial entrance, Dr. Harold Haldol, a balding, disconcertingly believable therapist, offered his red velvet couch for free-love therapy. Though the sign said he specialized in nymphomania, gluttony, and idolatry, he seemed well-versed on all matter of modern anxieties, mixing his pragmatic prognoses with odd poetical insights.

Looking up, we saw an open attic space in which two butoh-esque dancers with unicorn horns performed a slow-motion make-out session. We could hear some hissing and tiny explosions, too, these from the creative use of Pop Rocks. Below them real entrails were strung like gleaming pink crepe paper, all accented with an arrow impaling a real cow's heart. A character who called herself Little Miss Fickle, dressed in pink chiffon and sitting at a vanity littered with cosmetics, carried on a rhyming dialogue about the impossibility of deciding between Tom, Dick, or Harry with people waiting for the bathroom.

Nearby, in a small kitchen covered with tacky centerfolds, a married couple hurled lewd insults and the occasional beer can before making up with each other. "Goddamn, you're a bitch," the man sobbed, "but I love you!" Down one crevice, blindfolded guests were escorted into a bright red meat locker to encounter the "metasensual beast" (the naked, sweating body of paraplegic performance artist/horn dog Frank Moore). A reverential St. Valentine roamed the halls, blessing guests with good love and great sex. You could also pray for love to Venus, a nubile maiden, reclining in a large shell, as her attendants anointed your forehead with perfume. Eleanor Queen of Aquitaine received guests in her court of love, grilling them on their love lives and either punishing them with a spanking or rewarding them with a red rose. In another room, the Oyster Goddess offered her cleavage ($10) or her bellybutton ($5) as a plate for raw oysters garnished with lemon and hot sauce.

Performed by over 70 people, this kaleidoscopic fantasia of postmodern love did not conform to the narrow definition of theater, but it captured the word in its raw essence. Without the traditions and the institutions, the conventions and the glossy programs, this weird show revealed the human imagination's capacity to forge character, costume, and word into wicked, unpredictable entertainment.

-- Carol Lloyd

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