For Park Square Theatre’s new production of Macbeth, Jef Hall-Flavin has adapted Shakespeare’s text into a condensed, 90-minute play for purposes of accessibility and education. What you learn from this version of the classic tragedy, though, is that the key to making the Bard accessible is not trimming the script: It’s assembling a compelling, detailed production that effectively draws an audience into Shakespeare’s timeless realm.
Such a production this is not, and the only good thing about the cuts is that they get the play over with more quickly. Hall-Flavin also directs this clumsy show, and sitting through it feels like watching actors running around for an hour and a half, dragging a kite that stubbornly refuses to lift off.
This dark material just doesn’t work unless a staging can conjure a foreboding atmosphere for the haunted characters to breathe — and that takes a lot more than a few bursts of artificial smoke, as this awkwardly rushed production demonstrates. The problems are apparent from the opening moments, as the three witches (reimagined as members of a “religious sect,” according to the program) stroll around their cauldron looking like they’ve just come home from a long day at work and are trying to whip up a quick potion before The Bachelor comes on.
They have some eerie prophecies for Macbeth, played by Michael Ooms, who has so little presence in the role that he almost drifts off into the HVAC with the smoke. He connects best with the audience when he veers into sarcasm, which suggests that the show might have been best going for the Shit-Faced Shakespeare route.
Vanessa Wasche fares better as Lady Macbeth. She’s more efficiently businesslike than cruelly calculating, and Hall-Flavin’s edit deprives her of some much-needed run-up time to the brink of madness, but at least Wasche provides a focused and confident presence in a production that too often simply stumbles by.
When Hall-Flavin tries for unapologetic brutality, it tends not to come off well, because he doesn’t sustain a mood that will allow the violence to shock or resonate. Nor are the physical altercations convincingly staged: Blood squibs spurt and baby dolls are thumped to the ground, to no particular effect. The climactic duel between Macbeth and Macduff (Garry Geiken) is an interminable sequence of slow-motion sword-clanking.
The show is presented on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage, a small space that scenic designer Joseph Stanley still somehow struggles to fill. A column with two-way mirrors is used effectively for various spectral cameos, but it’s then echoed with additional reflective columns that make the space look like a Dayton’s sales floor circa 1986; when Birnam Wood comes alive, the tree branches are hung with shiny pendants so that it seems the English invaders are just delivering a seasonal window display.
No-frills Shakespeare can work, as another local company, Ten Thousand things, has repeatedly proved. Elaborate sets and fancy costumes are optional, but strong characterizations and a confident directorial vision are not.
Park Square Theatre
20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul
651-291-7005; through April 9