Much ado about a review: ISC performs ‘Macbeth’ and ‘As You Like It’

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Screen shot 2013-08-29 at 1.13.52 PMMax Stahl, Comment editor

Something wicked this way comes

In a grassy clearing where the animals are uncaged and time ambles withal, the walking shadows assemble. Graceful is the descending night, shrouding all but the stage, silencing whispers, heralding an end, but also a beginning. A coyote yawps in the distance, but by now the shadows are lost in the world of the play, and all they can hear is the Bard’s verse.

When I write about Shakespeare, I cannot help but indulge in allusion and pretension, such as those you read in the paragraph above. I suppose I’m a Shakespeare fanboy of sorts, though I’m not sure I’ve read enough of his canon to qualify. In any event, I have willed myself to forget my fondness of the Bard’s work in order to review the Independent Shakespeare Company’s performances of “As You Like It” and “Macbeth” as they are, rather than as the plays are written.

“Macbeth”

“Macbeth,” by far the more familiar of the two plays, has a large presence in both popular and academic culture. Artists as diverse as Duke Ellington and the writing staff of “The Simpsons” have adapted the play, and students around the world (including sophomores at this school) have read it and analyzed it. Therefore, any performance of “Macbeth” carries a heavy burden of expectation.

Alas, the Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) proves unable to meet that expectation. Despite Melissa Chalsma’s masterful portrayal of Lady Macbeth, the performance as a whole falls flat. I spent much of the play waiting for (SPOILER ALERT) Macbeth to just die already, which was certainly not the director’s intent, and I attribute this apathy not to the play’s pacing, but to its treatment of Macbeth’s character. Indeed, the performance hits many of the wrong notes, often opting for comedy where a more serious tone would be more effective. This miscalculation best manifests itself in the banquet scene, in which Banquo’s (Erik Mathew) ghost appears to Macbeth (Luis Galindo). We are made to laugh at Macbeth as he embarrasses himself in front of the Scottish nobles, as his sanity, along with his manhood, vanishes. This is a scene that should mark a transition to tragedy, yet, instead of giving the audience an opportunity to sympathize with our falling antihero, the director allows us to feel superior to him. Therefore, when Macduff displays the tyrant’s head on a pike, we cheer, though really we should feel more conflicted, having just witnessed the crumbling of a once-valiant man’s conscience.

Fittingly, the best part of the performance was the part that was supposed to be funny, the clown scene with Seyton the porter (Danny Campbell). Campbell strays far from the script in his delivery of hilarious comic relief (from an already somewhat funny tragedy), incorporating anachronisms and crude humor and a surprisingly funny vocabulary lesson. If your English teacher hasn’t yet taught you what an equivocator is, Seyton will.

Ultimately, ISC’s “Macbeth” is a show in which fair is foul and foul is fair. By making comedy out of the tragic, the company detracts from the beauty of the tragedy. While this tact is certainly appealing to some, I was underwhelmed. I know I can’t speak for everybody, but I like my comedies funny and my tragedies devastating.

“As You Like It”

Which is why I liked “As You Like It” a lot more than I did “Macbeth.” “As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, tells the story of Orlando (Sean Pritchett) and Rosalind (Melissa Chalsma), who fall in love at first sight (clichéd, I know, but if anyone could pull it off, Shakespeare could). Unaware that Rosalind (disguised as a man), along with her cousin Celia (Aisha Kabia) and the clown Touchstone (David Melville), has ventured into the forest of Arden in exile, Orlando flees to the very same forest with his elderly servant, Adam (Thomas Ehas), after Orlando’s older brother threatens his life. A complicated romantic situation, indefinable with a shape as simple as a triangle, develops in the forest, and Orlando wonders if he will ever marry his beloved Rosalind.

Simply put, ISC’s rendition of “As You Like It” is a lot of fun. The plot is engaging and easily digestible, the jokes are funny and the acting performances are excellent across the board. Notable are Luis Galindo as Jacques (who delivers the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech), David Melville as Touchstone and, again, Melissa Chalsma, this time as Rosalind.

“As You Like It” is an immersive experience. The setting is perfect: Griffith Park’s abundance of foliage and wildlife soundly simulates the fictitious forest of Arden. Actors interact with audience, and the audience becomes part of the play (especially during the wrestling scene). Unlike my apathy toward Macbeth, I had no trouble caring about the characters in “As You Like It.” During the roughly two and a half hours that the show lasted, Orlando and Rosalind and all the others felt very real and very worth my attention.

Don’t get me wrong: “Macbeth” is, generally speaking, a better play than “As You Like It.” But ISC’s performance of “As You Like It” is more worth your visit. It’s fun, it’s funny and you’ll learn a thing or two about life and love. It is a play that, in several ways, begs the question: can one desire too much of a good thing?

The be-all and the end-all of this article, here

This is the tenth year that ISC has hosted Shakespeare in the Park, a festival that continues to draw larger and larger crowds every year to Griffith Park’s Old Zoo. Admission is free, although the cast will ask for donations after the show, and, especially if you’ve just watched “As You Like It,” you will probably be inclined to donate. Make sure to arrive about an hour early (at least) in order to stake out a spot close to the stage, and bring food!

The last performances of “Macbeth” are on Friday and Saturday night, and the last performance of “As You Like It” is on Sunday night. All shows begin at 7:00 p.m.

Shakespeare in the Park offers an experience you can’t get anywhere else in LA. With the upcoming long weekend, I highly recommend you make the trip up to Griffith Park for at least one of the shows. And if you have a fear of Elizabethan English or coyotes, then screw your courage to the sticking place, and you’ll not fail.

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