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HART's production of 'Macbeth' stays true to Shakespeare's text

COURTESY PHOTO: HART THEATRE - Ira Kortum and Leticia Maskell star as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in HART Theatres production, which continues through Sept. 25.I was a bit worried as I walked into HART’s production of "Macbeth" last weekend. My guest was a 14-year-old girl with little exposure to Shakespeare, and I had been warned that the show ran more than three hours.

My fears were groundless — while my young friend was a bit baffled at first, by intermission she was so captivated by the production that she chafed at waiting 15 minutes to get back to the story.

Director Paul Roder’s vision of the tale is faithful to the canonical text. He resists the urge to update or adapt a story that needs no alterations, and the large crowd last Saturday would seem to indicate that 400 years after the author’s death, local audiences are not tired of Shakespeare’s tragic Scottish play.

For those not familiar with "Macbeth," the briefest of introductions will do: Macbeth is the Thane (a local official in service of the King) of Glamis. He encounters three witches in the woods who prophesy that he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition (his own, and especially his wife’s) he murders King Duncan to hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy. He assumes the throne, and then is driven to protect his status by killing his cousin Banquo and the wife and children of another nobleman, Macduff. A combination of guilt and paranoia drives both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth toward madness, leading to the final confrontation and the play’s bloody conclusion.

In HART’s production, as is often found in community theater, the quality of the acting is a bit uneven. However, Roder’s casting of the major roles is impeccable. In particular, Ira Kortum (Macbeth), Leticia Maskell (Lady Macbeth), Aaron Morrow (Macduff) and Adam P. Farnsworth (Banquo) turn in stellar performances.

Farnsworth gives his character the quiet integrity and absence of guile needed to be the perfect foil for his more ambitious relative. He plays a simple man with an uncomplicated view of honesty and loyalty. Morrow’s Macduff is much smarter, and more complex, but still imbued with a fierce loyalty to Scotland that drives him to risk (and lose) all that he loves to protect his country. Morrow’s measured response radiates intelligence, and I swear I could see tears sparkling in his eyes when he learns of his family’s awful fate.

Kortum captures all of the contradictions that make Macbeth a tragic figure. Ostensibly brave, it is clear in his first interactions with his wife that his insecurity and self-doubt make him vulnerable to Lady Macbeth’s overt manipulation; whenever he is on stage alone we feel his indecision and angst. Maskell plays a dizzying number of women in a single role, and commits fully to each facet of her character. Euphoria, slyness, fierce rage, pitiable grief and a seductive tenderness are all tools in her repertoire to ruthlessly control her husband and to deceive everyone else. Lady Macbeth is a consummate actress, and Maskell subtly brings the audience into this secret. We see her play her true self only after her descent into madness, and I have not seen the iconic “Out, damned spot. Out, I say!” done better.

There are countless other performance gems — in particular Donald Cleland (who plays three roles) in his hilarious his turn as the porter, and Karen Huckfeldt’s heart-wrenching Lady Macduff.

Karen Roder’s costume designs are inspired – she uses rough fabrics, dark colors, and primitive design to capture the time and place. The design of Macbeth’s kingly robe, cascading awkwardly off one shoulder, is a constant reminder of how uneasily he bears the throne, while Lady Macbeth’s elegant gowns capture her eagerness to play a queenly role.

Paul Roder and Tina Crawford’s detailed castle wall comprises the entire set, allowing for quick scene changes through addition and deletion of props. Finally, fight choreographers Brent Lambrell and Leann Hansen have succeeded in turning a stage full of relatively peaceful actors into fierce swordsmen, and the battle scenes are realistic and powerful.

Macbeth is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington St., Hillsboro, through Sept. 25, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.