Try to imagine Shakespeare's "Macbeth" as a cartoony soap opera staged by Monty Python on a low budget, and you'll have a pretty good idea of New Century Theater's production of Eugene Ionesco's "Macbett."
This may sound like peculiar praise, but it's intended as a compliment. A parody of the great tragedy, "Macbett" plays fast and loose with Shakespeare's characters, setting, themes and particularly, tone. Mark Redfield, who produced, directed and designed this inaugural New Century production, is merely accentuating the script's absurdist humor.
And the wilder the production gets, the better it is. Consider the depiction of Lady Duncan. The wife of the king assassinated by the title character, Lady Duncan doesn't even appear in Shakespeare's play. But the Ionesco version makes her -- or, more accurately, a witch disguised as her -- the source of all evil.
Forget the psychological depth in Shakespeare's text. "Macbett" focuses on the danger of power, pure and simple. Stirring up that danger is the witch who passes herself off as Lady Duncan, played with melodramatic campy glee by Donna Sherman. The production pulls out all the stops when Ms. Sherman's gnarled old witch is transformed into sexy Lady D: While four soldiers in camouflage gear disco in the foreground, Ms. Sherman sheds the witch's dirty, tattered rags -- not to mention beak-like nose and pointed chin -- and, to the strains of the Wonder Woman theme song, reveals herself to be a long-legged vixen in a leotard, spiked heels and silver lame cape. There's no question who's in charge here; Brian Chetelat's Macbett follows her like a besotted puppy.
Mr. Chetelat's portrayal is also deliberately cartoon-like. The heavy-set actor's characterization is reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden; his lumbering Macbett means well, but he's too easily swayed by fly-by-night schemes to improve his lot in life.
"Macbett" is a bold, ambitious choice for the first effort of a new theater company. The production may not be slick, but for the most part, it works -- primarily because Mr. Redfield does his best to keep things silly and simple. Compared to some of the overblown spectacles that have been made of the Bard's version, New Century's relatively modest, hokey staging of "Macbett" would probably suit Mr. Ionesco just fine.
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 16, at 8 p.m. Through June 29.
Where: St. John's Church, St. Paul and 27th streets.