By ROSINE REYNOLDS
My, Shakespeare was in a mood when he wrote this one. Ghosts, witches, magic, murder – and that’s just the first act.
“Macbeth” has such a dark reputation that even pronouncing its name is believed to bring bad luck in the theater. And College of Marin’s production offers daring audiences the additional thrill of traversing squeaky catwalks just to get to its Performing Arts Theatre. (The path, happily, is well lighted, and the theater is easy to find.)
This is an ambitious project for the college’s drama department. It uses more than 30 cast members and an additional three kurogo — stagehands and puppeteers wearing all black, in the Japanese tradition, who are considered invisible. Under W. Allen Tayor’s direction, the kurogo contribute nicely to the play’s special effects.
This “Macbeth” is set in the Middle Ages. Ronald E. Krempetz has designed a craggy, hengelike set, and Patricia Polen has costumed the cast in time-appropriate garb. The witches who appear out of the gloom to dance and make predictions seem right at home in such a setting, and it is their welcome to generals Macbeth and Banquo, returning from battle, that sets the engine of the plot in motion.
The Witches greet Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, even though the present Thane is still living, though not for long. First Thane, then King, the witches say. As for Banquo, he will not become King, but will beget kings. When the first prediction about himself comes true, Macbeth immediately vaults to the second, even though Duncan has just named his own son Malcolm as his heir. And then there’s that little matter of Banquo’s offspring.
Yearning to become King poisons both Macbeth and his Lady to the extent that they immediately begin planning to get King Duncan out of the way. As Macbeth considers the deed, the kurogo creep in, one holding a potential murder weapon.
“Is this a dagger I see before me?” Macbeth asks. The weapon disappears, then reappears. “Come, let me clutch thee.”
More blood is shed, and Macbeth can’t sleep. “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care” eludes him.
At this point, Lady Macbeth is still in the game, and obstacles to their ambition begin to fall in greater numbers. Duncan’s legitimate heirs flee to England and Ireland to gather forces, and Macbeth becomes King in their absence. Again, he seeks the Witches’ advice, but badly mistakes their message.
Two Tiburon Peninsula talents have parts in this production. Ross Berger of Tiburon does double duty in the roles of Donalbain, son of Malcolm, and Young Siward, son of the English general. Berger’s real-life mom, Piper Berger, says her son started acting at Marin Primary and Middle School in Larkspur in the seventh and eighth grades, and drama is now his major at College of Marin.
Actor Steve Price’s mom, Jeanne — a recently retired Ark writer — says her son was locally educated beginning in Belvedere Nursery School, and that he began to act when he was at Redwood High School. Price now plays the intense and driven Macbeth.
The other villain in the work, Lady Macbeth, is well played by Ishiah Benben. Their foes are Duncan’s son, Malcolm (Ryan Creighton), another Thane; Macduff (Jim Gessner); and Siward, the English General (Christopher Hammond).
Charles Isen appears both as the Doctor and as King Duncan. Stephen Dietz provides the only comic relief in the play as the grumpy Porter, roused from sleep to answer the pounding on the gate.
“Macbeth” is both a classic and a timely kickoff to Halloween.
Advice to audience members, though: Not all the actors have strong voices; for best sound, sit in the middle, and be patient with some of the music.
College of Marin’s “Macbeth” will play on the Kentfield campus, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 20 and Sundays, Oct. 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. Ticket prices vary. For complete information, call the box office, 485-9385.
Rosine Reynolds, second-generation humorist and ham, has been an Ark contributor since 1996.