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MACBETH and THE TEMPEST, Talisman Theatre, at Wing Park in Elgin. This Shakespeare doubleheader offers lively productions, alternating nightly, that engage the crowd but fall short of the darkness and magic they aspire to. Director Mark Hardiman has set Macbeth in “a misconception of the Middle East,” by which he seems to mean a locale steeped in evil forces. The Arab influence is mainly cosmetic–Suzan Brown’s costumes of dark robes and gilded headdresses, throbbing drumbeats and quivering wails that accompany the violence–and doesn’t really work its way into the play’s consciousness. In fact, this whole production, while compelling in certain sections, seems to struggle to find its soul. The essence of this tragedy is Macbeth’s gradual descent into a self-created hell. But Jason Lovett’s Macbeth vacillates between amiability, victimization, and bloodthirstiness in a way that feels less like a dramatic arc than a schizophrenic tug-of-war.

Director Kevin Heckman and cast present a more cohesive interpretation of The Tempest, the fantastic tale of magician and deposed duke Prospero (an authoritative Thomas Thomas) stranded on a desert island with his daughter, Miranda (Tami Torok, who shows great comic instincts despite her penchant for mugging). With the help of sexy sprite Ariel (Christine Gatto)–and despite the mutinous intentions of swarthy and devious slave Caliban (Kareem Bandealy)–Prospero stages a final confrontation with his enemies after compelling nature’s forces to cause their ship to wreck. This being a comedy, the showdown brings not bloody revenge but reconciliation, love for the blossoming Miranda, and an all’s-well-that-ends-well finale. The cast’s sparkle and wit and Bernice Ferraro’s flowing costumes compensate for missed visual opportunities: despite promising a production that “reimagines [the play] through the world of…painter Rene Magritte,” the staging leaves too much to the imagination. Fortunately, Wing Park’s sunset offers some bonus color–but bring the bug spray.