Jahzeer Terrell as a soldier, Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth, Terence Macsweeny and Sean Bradley as Soldiers in Arden Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Jahzeer Terrell as a soldier, Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth, Terence Macsweeny and Sean Bradley as Soldiers in Arden Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

by Clark Groome

Of all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Macbeth” may just be the most straightforward. The Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, the Scottish prince and, more to the point, his wife, want it all. Power fuels one of the greatest political whodunits ever written.

“Macbeth” is getting a decidedly mixed production at the Arden Theatre through April 19. With the fine Ian Merrill Peakes in the title role, we see all of his mixed emotions. He seems like a decent chap, resigned to his role as a loyal supporter of Scotland’s King Duncan (Christopher Patrick Mullen).

Lady Macbeth (the generally bland Judith Lightfoot Clarke) wants her husband to sit on the throne. Actually, it is she who passionately craves the power. The way to get there is to invite Duncan for an overnight and while he’s sleeping in the guestroom murder him, which is originally blamed on Duncan’s children: Malcolm (Josh Carpenter) and Donalbain (Sean Bradley).

After the deed is done, both Macbeths gradually descend into a madness that ends in both of their deaths. The Arden production, directed by Mt. Airy resident and founder of the local Quintessence Theatre Group, Alexander Burns, has managed to capture that descent and madness in Peakes. Clarke is a less effective character, more inclined to express her feelings rather than expose them.

The rest of the Arden’s large cast is also a mixed bag. Mullen, who has four varying roles, and Ben Dibble, Banquo and a couple of other turns, are quite impressive. The rest of the troupe is OK but little more than that. They seem to be reciting lines rather than creating characters.

The physical production is more pretentious than effective. Staged on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s simple set, the whole affair is played in Solomon Weisbard’s lighting that is generally dark and often unfocused.

Most troubling were Rosemarie E. McKelvey’s puzzling costumes. None of her designs provoke a period, which might be an attempt to make the story universal. They are also strange at best. Some evoke current military uniforms or formal dress while others feature traditional medieval breastplates, and still others make their characters look like football players who are just wearing shoulder pads. On the other hand, Paul Dennhardt’s fight direction is as good as it gets: scary and powerful. There is a pretentiousness and an unnecessarily high-intensity approach to the material that diminishes this great play’s overall impact. While there was a lot to admire in the Burns/Arden production, there was still enough to leave the impression that it was more about the production than the play. That’s too bad, considering how great the play is.

For tickets call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org

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