Performing Arts: Macbeth

Through Aug. 29 at
Mad Cow Theatre Company
105 S. Magnolia Ave.

It is an accepted superstition among theater folk that Shakespeare's Macbeth is an unlucky and cursed play. Generations of thespians have come to refer to it in hushed tones only as "the Scottish play" in hopes of keeping the evil spirits at bay. Unfortunately, in Alan Bruun's directorial swan song at Mad Cow Theatre disaster has struck yet again, this time in the form of an ill-conceived and utterly muddled chamber production that only succeeded in eviscerating the tragedy of its meaning and impact of the work.

Attempting to distill Macbeth down to its essentials, Bruun has cut the script in half and reduced the cast from more than 30 to just three performers interpreting all the parts. His idea was to highlight the play's language and plot by doing away with what he considers useless bombast and unnecessary style. But in paring the story to its bones and shifting its characterizations into a confusing roundelay of shared interpretations, none of its important themes — the destructive power of ambition, the cruelty of unchecked power, the self-defeating stigma of guilt — survived intact.

The production's three actors, Michael Sapp, Sophia Wise and Bobbie Bell, struggle valiantly to connect with one another, and they do manage to deliver their arcane line readings intelligibly. But there is no time for them to develop the inner life of any character, so they are forced to resort to elocutionary histrionics, adopting uninspired vocal clichés at warp drive and sometimes morphing into as many as three or four different personages over the course of a single minute.

The result on the audience is somewhat akin to a round of speed dating wherein all the potential partners are speaking a different foreign language. The onlookers are left overwhelmed by the barrage of meaningless verbiage that is completely unconnected to any emotional or intellectual receptors.

Bruun's desire was to illuminate the play by allowing it "to speak and be heard simply and directly," but there is no light emanating from this ineffective attempt. It is sad that this 100th Mad Cow Theatre production — and Bruun's last as the troupe's artistic director — is so much "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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