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Diablo Review: Macbeth

The Livermore Shakespeare Festival kicks off with a delightfully eerie play.

Armando McClain as Macbeth and Jennifer Le Blanc as Lady Macbeth. Photo by Kenneth Alexander.

With the sun setting in the distance, and the evening breeze blowing through endless rows of grapevines as audience members settle into their seats, the beautiful Concannon setting of the Livermore Shakespeare Festival certainly works to its advantage.

There’s something about watching a performance of Shakespeare in the outdoors. Perhaps because it’s meant to be viewed that way: The original Globe Theatre was an open-air amphitheatre, after all.

Armando McClain, who plays the title role in the festival’s production of The Tragedy of Macbeth, has just the type of voice you want to listen to reciting Shakespeare. Deep, commanding, and with crisp diction, his delivery makes for a convincing Macbeth, which is complimented by an impassioned performance of Lady Macbeth by Jennifer Le Blanc.

The quaint two-story historic cottage looming up behind the set threatens briefly to distract you from the experience, before the actors make use of it by drawing it into the scenes: The audience watches Lady Macbeth deliver her powerful monologue and Banquo’s ghost grimace over its wooden railing.

The actors play around with the selective use of different dialects during the production. The lively and comical Porter assumes a cockney English accent during his drunken ramblings, and later on Scottish and Irish brogues are present.

At intermission, wine and hot drinks are available for purchase, which help keep audience members cozy in the advancing chilly night. The production is timed so that intermission ends just as dusk is falling fast over the vineyard’s grounds, and therefore when the play resumes its scenes are all the more sinister.

While the use of a spooky baby-doll during the infamous witches’ scene comes off as a bit cheesy, the subsequent identical masked queens floating up to the stage are genuinely and delightfully eerie.

In fact, the production contains multiple moments that are truly gruesome and startling, even if you’ve seen the play before. Lady Macbeth’s crazed dreaming, the appearance of her ghost on the balcony above during the announcement of her suicide, and her husband’s gory demise—the production keeps them fresh, and is rewarded with gasps from the audience. Make sure to bring a blanket, because after seeing those moments, the nighttime cold won’t be the only thing making you shiver.

INFO: There are only two more performances of Macbeth: July 23 and 30. The Livermore Shakespeare Festival is also presenting Ken Ludwig’s comedy Lend Me a Tenor, with remaining performance dates July 22, 24, 29, and 31. Picnic area opens at 5:30 p.m., show time at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $36-39, livermoreshakes.org.