This is the time of year for witches, ghosts and bloody hands in dark shadows. A perfect time for someone clever to make Shakespeare's Macbeth a spooky Halloween experience. Alas, director Lofty Durham has not done that, in what looks like a straightforward version for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks.
Perhaps Durham is struggling with meager resources. It doesn't help that performances occur only in daylight. Some of the show could work, for instance with characters appearing midst real trees and fields, a potentially colorful pageant. Unfortunately, some of the actors confusingly do double, triple and quadruple duty amid 18 speaking parts, all costumed in generic, black casual clothes. (Meanwhile, considering the multiple-role and cross-gender casting, the program book fails to help audiences unfamiliar with the story, neither listing characters in order of appearance nor identifying them.)
The play demands creative interpretation. Especially the title role. Shakespeare didn't give Macbeth enough words nor time to clearly show him evolving from a brave warrior to an unsteady, scheming murderer, swayed by a pushy wife. Yet beneath this brief strut upon the stage lies the trenchant theme that knowing the future poisons the present. The sound and fury must have resonance, and on opening day, the cast didn't provide much.
Most of the actors seemed unable to express the clear meanings of their lines or to convey much sense of character. Although it's not up to Durham to train them, directors can point the way; Shakespeare in the Parks artistic director Jennifer Tober did that successfully two years ago, with As You Like It.
Ben Greenstone's Macbeth came across not as a tragic figure, bewildered about what he is doing, but rather as an actor bewildered about the essence of what he says. As Lady Macbeth, Clare Fogerty often ranted roughshod through significant parts of her speeches.
On the plus side, fight choreographer Tonya Lynn achieves good results and Durham has managed some inventive staging, such as having the witches hover in the background as Macbeth plots evil deeds.
No seating is provided; you might bring some. Also bring hope that the performers, with more practice, get better and go deeper to the last syllable of recorded time.
Macbeth continues at 3 p.m. Sat., Oct. 20, and 3 p.m. Sun., Oct. 21, at Kennard playground, Reed and Kirkpatrick streets, Hill District; and 3 p.m. daily Oct. 27 & 28, in Frick Park, Beechwood Boulevard at Nicholson Street, Squirrel Hill. Free. 412-404-8531