Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre 

Reynolds Performance Hall, June 11-12

The star of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre's “Macbeth” is the production itself. A looming set with dagger motifs; shadowy, backlit projections; ominous-sounding synthesizer music and drifting mist combine to create the “horror-movie” effect conceived by producing artistic director Matt Chiorini.

Coming in a close second is the actor Jessejames (yes, really) Locorriere, with his portrayal of the title character. Locorriere's command of the words and of his own voice is excellent, and his body language effectively conveys Macbeth's descent from cocky young warrior to prematurely aged ruler.

Paige Reynolds's high-pitched voice and tall, thin figure make her an appropriately hysterical Lady Macbeth. A nice touch in her opening scene shows the childless lady embracing an empty blanket pulled from a tiny cradle. Later, having encouraged her husband to commit multiple murders, she's the one who breaks under the weight of guilt.

Realistic fight scenes should appeal especially to guys of all ages. Choreographed by Ashley Wright and Brett Ihler, who also plays Macduff, they range from sword clashing to Tough Man-style grappling in the final duel with Macbeth. It's not a stretch to imagine the burly, red-haired Ihler hurling long poles in actual Highland Games competitions.

Annie Gaarder, Whitney Madren and Taylor Galloway, all AST student interns, play the three witches whose prophecies set the plot in motion. Faces concealed by pale gray veils, they work well together. Another intern, Greyson Lewis, gives a hilarious performance as the drunken porter in the play's only comic scene.

“The Taming of the Shrew” is as frolicsome as “Macbeth” is somber. Katherine, the title character, as played by Marin Miller, persuades the audience that her father's preference for docile sister Bianca (Tara Bruno) forces her into a negative attention-getting role. The scene where Miller ties Bruno to a chair is great fun. In a production filled with visual humor, Dan Matisa, as the opportunist Petruchio, gets his laughs with clipped speech and economy of movement.

Directed by John Nagle, co-founder of the Vermont Shakespeare Company, the production features some very good ensemble work. Composer/musician Vince DiMura accompanies several musical numbers at a keyboard in the orchestra pit and one on stage with an accordion.

The comedy is heightened by Yslan Hicks' contemporary (more or less) costumes, especially those worn by Aaron Michael Muserallo. In a brief prologue, the willowy Muserallo appears in drag, later as Hortensio, one of Bianca's suitors, in a chartreuse suit with spiked orange hair. Still later he shows up disguised as a guitar teacher in black turtleneck and beret, with sprayed-on black jeans. The actor's triangular profile and jerky movements are also good for a laugh or two.

Miller's Katherine is first seen in a slinky black cocktail dress, with Bruno's Bianca in pink ruffles. Played by Ken Zimmerman, Baptista, the girls' father, is as impeccably tailored as a Mafia don. For the wedding scene, Matisa's Petruchio sports shiny yellow pants and a big motorcycle.

Before seeing a Shakespeare play, it's not a bad idea to do a little homework. (You wouldn't go to a football game or a horse race without knowing something about the players.) This is especially important in “Shrew,” whose actors play multiple roles with identity swapping thrown into the mix. The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre's Web site, www.arkshakes.com, offers an excellent opportunity for this with its Family Study Guides. 

“Macbeth” will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. June 14 and June 28. “The Taming of the Shrew” will be performed again at 7:30 June 15 and June 26 and at 2 p.m. June 28. All performances are at Reynolds Auditorium on the University of Central Arkansas campus in Conway.

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