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Mackers, animal style

Animal Fire Theatre goes all out with outdoor "Macbeth"

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It wasn't long into Animal Fire Theatre's outdoor production of Macbeth before I was reminded of Jerzy Grotowski's indispensable book, Towards a Poor Theatre.  It's a must-read for any director.  Theater can't hope to compete with film in terms of spectacle, so Grotowski argued it should concentrate on writing and acting instead.  Actors in Grotowski productions went so far as to play many of the props.  He called for, and got, a degree of range and athleticism almost unknown on the American stage.

Yet here we were in Priest Point Park, watching theater that went beyond poor to free, in which actors sped around on all fours like greyhounds.  When I heard about Animal Fire's approach I was skeptical, but it's applied with discretion and wit and it's damn fun to watch.  Director Austen Anderson cut the script into 90 well-chosen minutes and makes good use of an unusual, semicircular space.  Casey Brown's fight choreography is among the best I've seen on the boards. Notably for an outdoor production near East Bay Drive, almost every word of dialogue was clearly audible from our camping chairs near the ring of citronella candles - and we were out by nine without a single mosquito bite.

I've seen productions of the "Scottish play" before, from a Road Warrior-style gorefest at Oklahoma University to Harlequin's moodier version, but I've never seen Lady MacBeth performed with the ‘roid-raging ferocity of Melanie Moser's portrayal.  I've enjoyed her work over the last year at Harlequin, but Animal Fire's MO works more bellicose muscles.  James Napoleon Stone is both virile and cerebral as Macduff, and Rebecca Hardy is doubly well-cast as Malcolm and a witch.  As for Peter Beard's Macbeth, he plays exactly the kind of over-reaching adolescent who'd cede control to Moser - but I was distracted by similarities between his vocal cadences and those of the Mooninite Ignignokt from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  Or maybe that's just me.

It occurred to me by Act IV that Macbeth, for all its ‘mortal murders' and spooky, allegedly cursed production history, is as much a comedy as it is a horror story.  It's quasi-comedic in the Elizabethan sense - nuptials aren't promised in Act V, but the good guys do win - and our modern sense as well.  The witches' prophecy relies on literary quibbles.  Lady Macbeth argues with herself like a cartoon schizophrenic.  Her husband freaks out when a dinner guest sits on a ghost.  Hell, the Porter practically invents the knock-knock joke.  In Hamlet, Polonius refers to a "tragical-comical-historical-pastoral" theatre troupe, so it surprises me how reluctant most directors are to do something real life does all the time:  nestle one mood inside another.  It's a missed opportunity, especially from Richard Glen's sober, one-dimensional Porter.  A few opening night audience members chuckled at the ridiculousness of it all, but they were quickly silenced.  That's no fun. After all, if you can't laugh at the gory murder of women and children by a maniacal, wannabe tyrant. ...

This is Animal Fire's first outdoor production in Olympia.  I'd love to see what they could do with Titus Andronicus or Jarry's Ubu Roi.

Macbeth

July 22-25, 29-Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m., free
Priest Point Park, 2600 East Bay Dr. NE, Olympia
animalfiretheatre.com

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