In a happy footnote, the actor originally scheduled to play Duncan is said to be convalescing nicely. Those who lack all superstition may doubt that this production is cursed, but one suspects that even with Duncan's recovery, the Jungle's Macbeth will fall short of greatness.
With considerably less toil and trouble, Huldufólk Theatre's staging of Largo Desolato breathes life into a play that is often considered a footnote to history. The playwright here is celebrated dissident and President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, and his translator is Tom Stoppard. With a sleek production and some fine acting, the fledgling Huldufólk company manages to fuse the didacticism of Havel's dystopian tale with the wry, evasive humor of Stoppard's dialogue.
Professor Leopold Nettles (Daniel Dunbar) is a philosopher with three problems. First, he is constipated. Second, he is under constant surveillance by a shadowy and malevolent secret police force, represented by actors flitting around the dark edges of the stage with flashlights. Third, Nettles has lost his mind. His visitors certainly give him just cause for worry. His wife Suzana (Kate Eifrig) is carrying on a conspicuous affair with his friend Edward (Steve Sweere). In addition to his personal problems, Nettles is hounded by two factory workers named Sidney (Steve Kath and Brian Merrick), who exhort the professor to get on with his philosophizing. There is also Bertram (Ainsley Campbell), who constantly assures the frazzled professor that "everyone likes you," and two seedy secret-agent types (Terry Flynn and Peter Ooley), who obviously don't like him and who want him to disavow his work and public identity.
Of course, with the fall of Communism, the protest theater of Eastern Europe might seem dated. Huldufólk's Largo Desolato is evidence, however, that Vaclav Havel is not just a courageous dissident but also a brilliantly mordant playwright. All it takes to light the fire is a few sparks from this promising new troupe.
Macbeth runs through April 10 at the Jungle Theater; (612) 822-7063; Largo Desolato runs through February 28 at the Cedar Riverside People's Center; (612) 827-4162.