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Four plays open at OSF

ASHLAND - What could be more appropriate, Libby Appel asks, in the first new theater season since Sept. 11, than a play that looks into the heart of a murderer? Appel, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's artistic director, is directing OSF's production of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which opens tonight.The famous murder story kicks off not only the festival's season but its New Theatre, the spanking new $11 million replacement for the beloved but cramped Black Swan.

Four openings are set for the weekend, with "Macbeth" joined by Robert E. Sherwood's "Idiot's Delight" Saturday afternoon, Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" Saturday night and Michael Frayn's "Noises Off" Sunday afternoon.

Appel tells theater patrons at an informal discussion at Carpenter Hall Thursday that the plays and directors were chosen a year and a half ago, long before terrorists struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon, despite notes of apparent relevance.

"What could be more appropriate than to look into the heart of a fundamentalist, if you will, like Cassius?" she says, referring to the bad guy in "Julius Caesar."

Even the comedy "Idiot's Delight" is not without 9-11 reverberations, she says. Sure, Sherwood's 1936 play throws people together in an amusing way, but looming in the background is Hitler, another True Believer ready for slaughter.

She says the farcical "Noises Off" is comic relief to the heavy stuff - "Just to have a great time."

Appel defies theatrical convention by saying "Macbeth" aloud. The play has long been held to be the unluckiest of all time. Actors and others commonly call it "the Scottish play." This production, she says, is a streamlined one designed to focus on the psychology of the characters. She says the play's three witches have become Wayward Sisters instead of Weird Sisters in a downplaying of the supernatural in the play.

"Julius Caesar" has a contemporary look, she says.

She says she's wanted to put on "Idiot's Delight" for 20 years but never worked in a company that could mount a version with enough actors to do it justice. Sherwood won the 1936 Pulitzer for the play.

"Noises Off" is a farce about a second-rate acting company putting on a traditional British sex farce. Unlike Peter Bogdanovich's 1984 movie with Carol Burnett, Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, in which the tale was transplanted to the United States, this production remains set in the play's original England.

Asked about the actors' white costumes in "Macbeth," Appel says, "Find all the symbolism you can, but the truth is we wanted the blood to show up."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail