Rey Lucas and Liz Sklar are excellent in California Shakespeare Theater’s “Macbeth.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Actors take charge in Cal Shakes’ ‘Macbeth’

Tragedy boasts strong ensemble, innovative set design

Initially, director Victor Malana Maog’s “Macbeth” at California Shakespeare Theater surprises. The set is largely filled with a climbing structure: metal poles, two small elevated platforms and a pair of skeletal trees, fronted by a series of Plexiglass panels. A stack of skulls on the floor in one corner presages horrors to come.

The actors perform downstage of and within the structure’s confines, and as the tragedy unfolds, those clear glassy panels become increasingly smeared with blood (this is a particularly bloody “Macbeth”). Sometimes one character smashes another against the glass, face first, a memorably visceral image.

That ingenious set, designed by Adam Rigg, is the one abstract element in this production of Shakespeare’s supernatural tragedy of greed and power-lust.

Otherwise, with much of the cast clad in simple garments featuring emblematic tartan (costumes by Melissa Torchia), and appropriately dramatic lighting (by Russell H. Champa) and sound (by Elizabeth Rhodes), this is a rendition of the Scottish play that emphasizes the talents of the actors.

Double- or in some cases triple-cast, with some of the male roles played by women, this 10-member, multicultural ensemble is focused, unshowy and deeply connected to Shakespeare’s words and themes.

In the title role of the thane-who-would-be-king, Cal Shakes newcomer Rey Lucas etches out a carefully calibrated performance, evolving slowly and organically from a low-key soldier activated by the prophecy of the three witches (played by various cast members at different times, always effectively) to a man driven berserk by his own snowballing ambition.

Lucas knows when to speak softly and when to rage, and finds a range of colors in his soliloquies (his gloomy “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” is spoken not drearily but with a sort of wry chuckle).

And when Liz Sklar as Lady Macbeth, adrenaline racing, delivers her initial impassioned and emotional monologue, every combination of amazement, doubt, fear, hope and ultimately steely determination play out on her expressive face and body. Sklar digs into a wealth of character traits and impulses that make this larger-than-life anti-heroine frighteningly believable as she goads her husband toward murder and finally loses herself.

In smaller roles, Warren David Keith is a natural as the drunken porter; Dane Troy’s Macduff is heartbreakingly vulnerable in his key scene; and Jomar Tagatac is a strong Banquo, the first of Macbeth’s perceived foes. But there are no weak links in this solid cast.

REVIEW

Macbeth

Presented by California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 13

Tickets: $39 to $63

Contact: (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org

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