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A Not So Gloomy Macbeth
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A Not So Gloomy Macbeth 

Clockwise from center: Jeff Wiesen, Anthony Hernandez, Mark Cosby, and Christopher Glenn Gilstrap. Image courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum. Photo by Ian Flanders

Topanga’s outdoor theater is always a beautiful place to see some flowers and be immersed in nature; attending a performance is a nice way to stay part of the community by showing up to support Topanga’s own. Neither of these rationales, though, are necessary when it comes to purchasing tickets for the Theatricum’s Macbeth.

Part of what makes the Theatricum production worth the afternoon is the script, written by William Shakespeare. Three witches issue three prophecies to Macbeth, the first two of which come to pass immediately. Macbeth smartly deduces that the third —his ascendance to the throne—is extremely likely to come true. Hitherto a saintly figure, his latent ambition is stoked by his power-hungry wife and in a bout of overexcitement he expedites the third prophecy by assassinating the sitting king. Once king, Macbeth silences all suspicious parties with the sword, creating even more suspicious parties. His dastardly actions build up a critical mass of karma, resulting in a civil war and many unnecessary deaths. 

It’s all a great tragedy, and a good one too. It’s also spooky—witches, ghosts, and other occult phenomena abound—and kind of a murder mystery (except by virtue of soliloquies and unnaturally loud stage whispers the audience knows exactly what’s going on). Despite the afternoon heat of the matinee, my hair prickled up. If you’re curious about the history of the horror genre, start here. 

(About the matinee’s temperature: best not to attend the matinees during a heat wave, or else bring a real hand fan rather than inefficiently wave a baseball cap or blow air down the shirt.)

A well-intended word of caution: if you’re coming here to follow along vegetatively and laugh when other people laugh, think again. Parsing Shakespeare makes one’s brain sweat. It is tempting to stop and ponder such succulent phrases as “Benison” and “‘Aroint thee, witch!’ the rump-fed ronyon cries.” Too much pondering, though, and many erudite jokes will slip by unnoticed, or even worse, appreciated belatedly in an awkward lone laugh. At any rate, a Shakespeare production can’t ever be as direct as a Nick. Jr. show because the requisite script-tampering would be tantamount to blasphemy, but the actors do use a great deal of heart-on-sleeve body language, their whole range of voice, and occasionally swords to make their feelings known. (There’s a whole lot of blood-gushing and a bagged severed head, which might be unsuitable for the more impressionable youngsters; however, real metal swords clash and literal sparks fly in the stage combat, which kids tend to find really cool). Such little acts of kindness as the phrase “yeasty waves”—which upon first glance means I don’t know what but maybe an algal bloom—being changed to “frothy waves,” saved me seconds of overthinking. Probably the best compromise between doing pure Shakespeare and adjusting for modern ears while not rousing the rabble of Shakespeare scholars.

It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or bad: the Theatricum is really pretty and does not at all match the traditional dark and dreary set meant to give profundity and gravitas to the dark and dreary action of Macbeth. In any case, after the play I felt primed to explore the dappled paths comprising the Botanicum part of the venue. Under grapevine-shaded trellises, picnickers unrolled their spreads, more prepared than I to enjoy the beauty. Chasing butterflies and sniffing wisteria, I somehow forgot to ponder the weighty conundrum of whether I would want to be king or not.

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