Lay On, MacBuff

Theatre Britain strips the Scottish play and its actors down to their bare essentials

The play resounds with intriguing puzzles and mysteries. It also contains some of Shakespeare's most beloved sequences, including the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time" speech uttered by the main character just before his own death. And don't forget Lady Macbeth's frenzied "Out, out, damn'd spot," which now would be considered not madness but a clear case of OCD.

According to history books, there really was a Macbeth. He lived more than 500 years before Shakespeare wrote the play in 1606. King James I, the monarch who ruled during Shakespeare's time, was a descendant of Banquo, one of Macbeth's victims and the one whose ghostly head haunts his killer at the banquet table in the play. James also was fascinated by the occult, thus the inclusion of the "bubble, bubble" ladies (Shakespeare aimed to please his patrons).

This might well be Theatre Britain's best production yet. Certainly it's the raunchiest (in a good way) and riskiest, if only because of other local theaters' dependence on repeating the Bard's top 10 hits. There always seems to be a Macbeth running somewhere (an all-woman one is going on at Dallas Theater Center), and usually there's very little reason to care. Wisely, this company has found what sizzles in Macbeth and cut away the flab till all that remains is a prime cut of dramatic beef. Make that beefcake.

This is one sexy Macbeth, with Steven Pounders 
(Macbeth) and Sue Birch (Lady Macbeth).
This is one sexy Macbeth, with Steven Pounders (Macbeth) and Sue Birch (Lady Macbeth).

South of the heaths of Scotland lie the desolate moors of Yorkshire, England. There the story of The Secret Garden, now onstage at Dallas Children's Theater, unfolds with old-fashioned charm and innocence. Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved 1909 book, adapted for the stage by A. Franklin (this is not the musical version), finds newly orphaned Mary Lennox (the wonderful Pam Covington at the performance reviewed) stuck in the dank environs of her widowed uncle's estate.

Children's lit teems with lonely, displaced orphans. But few are like Mary, a petulant waif who throws tantrums and demands to be waited on. Glumly wandering the manor, she makes friends with elderly groundskeeper Ben Weatherstaff (Gordon Fox). She discovers a locked, overgrown garden that eventually, along with a country boy named Dickon (Matt Savins) and a sickly cousin named Colin (Matthew Brown at the performance reviewed), she brings back to life.

The rebirth of the garden, a metaphor for youthful awakening and nature renewing itself, is handled gently and gracefully in director Artie Olaisen's lovely production at DCT. On Zak Herring's set full of oversized arches and empty picture frames (stunningly lit by Linda Blase), the actors don't rush a thing. There's a lilting, peaceful quality to The Secret Garden that casts a quiet but powerful spell. This is children's theater as glorious and lush as a field of spring blooms.

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