Review: ‘Macbeth’ as a stage company’s added attraction

The no-nonsense staging and smooth interpretation that Commonwealth Classic Theater Company is giving “Macbeth” in West Philadelphia works well for the company that normally stages plays in one-night stands from park to park around the region.

In fact, the Shakespeare classic at the intimate Black Box Theater at Drexel could have been staged for any of those parks.

Characters come and go through audience aisles and Paul Kuhn’s set – a series of ripped fabric hangings that represent the forest and also hallways in Macbeth’s castle – is the utilitarian sort you’d expect to see outdoors in any Commonwealth Classic production. The only other furnishing here is unavoidable – a banquet table for the iconic scene in which Macbeth (an excellent, thoughtful portrayal by the well-versed Philadelphia actor Charlie DelMarcelle) is haunted by the ghost of Banquo (John Jezior, on the money).


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Company resident director Joshua Browns directs the production, which stands out nicely in iconic scenes (the witches who infiltrate the mind of Macbeth do so with special oomph) and pumps along otherwise without the same force, but remains solid.

“Macbeth” lifts Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company into a new era. This is its second play this summer; the stage company recently finished its typical regional parks’ run of free theater – this year, the goofy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” which I didn’t see. While the company has partnered with Drexel to present a second play in 2007 and staged a Fringe Festival show in addition to its parks play in 2010, this “Macbeth” is a breakout: company co-founder Mary Ann Baldwin sees it as the start of an expanded summer series with productions people pay to see.

If that series continues to be on a stage, Commonwealth Classic may be able to get enough funding to lose its park-staging mentality and pursue higher production values. That’s not to say that bare-bones is a flop – in fact, Rosemarie McKelvey’s costumes are graceful in their simplicity, and when it comes to swordplay, the company wasted no effort in Ian Rose’s fight choreography. But I longed for a more sumptuous banquet with additional lords and ladies, or at least some of the torches and “soldiers with drum and colours” that Shakespeare calls for in his few stage directions — the stuff that accessorizes the Bard’s tense dialogue.

Much of the supporting cast delivers those words in admirable everyday form: Adam Altman as Macduff and Isa St. Clair as his wife; Leonard Kelly as Scotland’s ill-fated king and Sean Close as his son – and especially Trice Baldwin, whose Lady Macbeth is a wonderfully transparent picture of evil ambition. As for the ambitions of Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company, beginning with this extra-added production, may they be only for good._”Macbeth” runs through August 25 at the Black Box Theater, in URBN Center Annex on the north side of Filbert Street, between 34th and 35th Streets.

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