Fleetwood Macbeth

“Fleetwood Mac,” by the Troubadour Theater Company
a kate west review
now playing at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood (800) 595-4849
February 19 – March 28, 2004

In Shakespearean time, theater was a bawdy, entertaining, interactive affair and audience members participated in their own raucous evening out. Shakespeare would have loved the Troubadour Theater Company. Troupe leader Matt Walker heads a company of professional improvisers, musicians and actors in a theater company that holds nothing sacred.

Their latest effort, “Fleetwood Macbeth,” stays true to their familiar style of wacky, irreverent fun. Set to the music of Fleetwood Mac, it is the classic story of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” From the beginning of the play, we know this will be a very different experience as some of the actors mingle with the audience before the show and the pull some “volunteers” on stage. Latecomers are greeted with a house-lights-up joyous song and the actors talk to us throughout the entire play.

Morgan Rustler as Macbeth and Matt Walker as Banquo take us through the entire story, jumping from traditional Shakespearean soliloquies to pop culture references such as mega singer Janet Jackson’s recent Super Bowl faux pas. Choreographer Michelle Anne Johnson dazzles us with fabulous numbers, including many acrobatic feats and Musical Director Andre P. Holmes accents the show with his rockin’ band. Meanwhile, the actors sing familiar Fleetwood Mac hits such as “Don’t Stop.” Lisa Valenzuela is an especially strong singer as Lady Macbeth and the crew of witches, led by Beth Kennedy as Hectate, are a delightful chorus of talented singers and dancers. Matt Walker’s direction is tightly controlled, yet still allows for improv and nice rapport with the audience. Costume Designer Sharon McCunigle creates a combination of modern and olden Scottish wear and most of the actors sport crazy huge rubber feet.

For those who can’t remember their high school lit class, “Macbeth” is inspired by the witches and his wife to murder King Duncan (Travis Clark) and take his place. Violence begets violence and he murders his friend Banquo to prevent his rise to the throne and then slaughter the entire family of his rival Macduff (portrayed East Los Angeles “homie” style by Guillermo D. Robles). He is ultimately and justly defeated by Macduff and heir to the throne, Prince Malcolm (deliciously foppishly played by Guilford Adams). Lady Macbeth dies and Macbeth himself is killed, all of his blood lust having left him with nothing but anguish and disturbing hallucinations.

The dramatic moments in this production, especially Macbeth’s speeches, could have been heightened in order to better contrast the troupe’s zaniness. As a whole however, it is a rewardingly juicy show, highlighting lowbrow humor and a finely toned ensemble. Tremendous fun and definitely recommended.

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Pigs and Bugs

“Pigs and Bugs,” a world premiere by Paul Zimmerman
a kate west review
directed by Chris Fields,
Echo Theatre Company, McCadden Place Theatre,
1157 McCadden Place,
Hollywood 90038; (800) 413-8669; www.echotheatrecompany.com
Running February 12 –
March 14, 2004

The recent Echo Theatre production of “Pigs and Bugs” is a contemporary, confusing tale about the effect pop culture has on the human soul. Director Chris Fields does a solid job with the material but cannot overco
me the more confusing elements of the play. Sound Designer Drew Dalzell peppers the scenes with game show sound bytes, inferring a constant presence of television’s enticing hopefulness for winning the American dream. And at one point, the sound is a bit too long and too loud for sensitive spectators. Also, Set Designer David Offner creates a bizarrely fun atmosphere with hanging shopping bags and carpeted lamps suspended above one interchangeable, overstuffed sofa. It suggests to the viewer that he/she is in for a wild ride but by the end you may wonder where the fun has gone.

Enrico Colantoni (from television’s “Just Shoot Me”) is Russell; a neurotic, worried, manic writer with an exasperated, long-suffering wife named Wanda (Tara Karsian). The first act begins with his paranoia-induced monologues on the various people he believes want to destroy him. Meanwhile, Wanda’s sister Harriet (Christine Estabrook) is another neurotic paranoid and suffering from agoraphobia. Her daughter Brenda (Anna Perilo) tries everything to get her mother to leave the house but Harriett won’t budge. These four characters interact with each other in two acts; each becoming progressively more paranoid and frantic as the plots unfolds.

The play eventually climaxes with an odd focus on Brenda, leaving the audience to wonder if the playwright (Paul Zimmerman) is expressing his voice through her or if she is the “everyman,” surrounded by a family over inundated with a barrage modern of materialism. Either way, it follows a strange “death” scene in which the other three characters convulse after an endless angry spewing monologue but shortly thereafter spring back into action as if nothing had transpired. This device does not fully embody the playwright’s intention except in a rather obvious way.

All in all, the playwright seems to be commenting on modern materialism and white noise and the way it all tends to curb normal intimacy and control in people’s lives. Perhaps these people started out normally but slowly degenerated into buzzing zombies, brimming over with aggression and violence. As an original play it is an interesting look at our modern lifestyle but does not offer anything particularly revolutionary. The production ultimately fails to break new ground.

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The Diary of a Madman

“The Diary of a Madman”
a kate west review
written by Nikolai Gogol; adapted by Don Eitner & Tom Troupe
directed by Don Eitner
at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles 90025
call (310) 477-2055; Running January 10 – March 7

Veteran actor Tom Troupe stars in a one-man production of “The Diary of a Madman” which he and Director Don Eitner adapted and re-translated from Ukrainian Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same name. The main problem with adapting a short story is in expanding a basic premise into a full length story and in translating something from Russian, is in arranging it in intelligible in English. In this case the producers make a valiant attempt; however, the end result is a full hour of the ravings of a madman. Literally.

Tom Troupe plays a nameless impoverished “Clerk” who works in a miserable anonymous European office where, in the words of Gogol himself, “… everyone is drowned by the trivial, meaningless labours at which he spends his useless time.” The Clerk becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his working conditions and escapes more and more into his own fantasy world. For instance, he seemingly believes his hand puppet is a real person but destroys it in a fire in a fit of rage which sends him into dementia. He ends up thinking he is King Ferdinand of Spain and refuses to believe otherwise even when his landlady commits him to an asylum.

Troupe does a fairly good job of depicting a descent into madness but it is not particularly interesting to watch. Unfortunately a gibbering madman does not offer any great moral lessons. It is rather more clinically interesting and perhaps might be one reason Gogol kept it a short story. Also, the sound design is distractingly archaic (by Sound Designer Dale Barnhart). Set Designer Danny Truxaw did build a nice set however, which helps depict the character of the Clerk living in a nondescript dateless European country.

All in all, it is up to each audience member whether or not to give this production a chance. Don’t expect to gain any new insights on the human condition but rather the inner workings of a lunatic.

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)

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