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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's recent reviews of Night Vision and Silence, Hair and Dirty Dancing

Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand
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Macbeth is currently playing on the Roda Stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; however, I found this to be an uneven production of the Shakespeare tragedy. The "Scottish play" has proved to be one of the most popular of the Bard's tragedies, a cautionary tale of ambition and madness. Macbeth is filled with sex, magic, violence, and death and has set alight the imagination of millions of theatregoers across the globe, but I found this to be a "sanitized" presentation of the Bard's work. Maybe I am of the old school where Macbeth has been more melodramatic, and this production seems less dramatic. I will say that the look of the production is first rate, but I found no magic, violence, or sex in the presentation.

I have seen Macbeth oh so many times in the past, including two at Strafford Upon Avon with Ian MacKellen in 1976 and Anthony Sher in 1999 in the title role. One of my first jobs in Hollywood was working with Orson Welles at Republic Pictures on his cinematic take on the murderous couple. Oregon Shakespeare Company did a strange Macbeth that was pared down to 110 minutes with no intermission. They did an even stranger production when they combined Medea and Macbeth with Cinderella several years ago.

Conleth Hill, an acclaimed actor on stage, in film, and on television (in a leading role on "Game of Thrones" as Lord Varys), gives an interesting performance. Yes, he is articulate with the Bard's words. But somehow I feel he is wrong for the role. He seems almost too modest as Macbeth, even in the first scene as a warrior. Speeches like "Is this a dagger before me?" and "Tomorrow, tomorrow" are thrown away. Both are clearly understated.

Frances McDormand, whom I considered to be a wonderful film actress, plays Lady Macbeth and one of the witches. Her role as one the witches is outstanding. Her performance as Lady Macbeth at first lacks melodrama but when she does her final mad scene she tears up the stage.

Korey Jackson is a vigorous Macduff; he is outstanding in this role, with a perfect Shakespearean accent. Scott Coopwood makes a fascinatingly scheming Lennon. James Carpenter plays three roles in this production: Duncan, the drunken Porter, and Doctor. He excels as as all three characters, particularly when offering comic relief in the role of the Porter. Rami Margron and Mia Tagano are excellent as the two other witches. Adam Magill as Malcolm, Christopher Innvar as Banquo, and Nicholas Pelczar as Angus give splendid performances.

Director Daniel Sullivan, who won a Tony Award for his direction of Proof and was nominated in 2011 for his direction of The Merchant of Venice, has gone all out to make this a larger than life presentation, with splendid scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt, videos by Alexander V. Nicholas, and lighting by Pat Collins that features dense, fog-swept exteriors. Costumes by Meg Neville are authentic to the time period of the play.

Macbeth runs through April 10th, 2016, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-647-2949 or visit

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