"I'm not out to make her sympathetic," says actress Franchelle Stewart Dorn of her role as Lady Macbeth in the Folger Shakespeare Theatre's upcoming production of "Macbeth." "My job is to make her understandable to myself. I tell my acting students, a bitch doesn't wake up and say, 'How am I going to make the world a more miserable place today?' That person who has been labeled a bitch is simply getting through the day the best way she knows how," she says. "Lady Macbeth loves her spouse. His future has been ordained and she doesn't see anything wrong with helping him achieve his destiny as fast as possible."

Dorn's acting career seems ordained too. Although Dorn, a longtime District resident, has worked as an acting teacher, a news magazine journalist and a broadcast reporter, she has also acted steadily since her graduate school days at Yale. A black woman working in a field in which there are are hundreds of applicants for most roles and there aren't many parts for nonwhites, Dorn has seldom lacked for interesting, challenging roles. "My career has been unusual for an actor of any color," says Dorn. "Things keep coming to me and I do them -- I never think, 'Is this okay career-wise?' Why should I move to New York and look for work when I'm always working here?"

When Dorn assumes the character of Lady Macbeth, she ceases to exist as a black American working mother. "My daughter Kirstin is in the show. We share a dressing room and sometimes before we go onstage, Kirstin will come to me and say, 'Mommy, can you zip this for me?' and I'll bark, 'No! Get a dresser!' because I'm already in character," she says. "Sometimes she forgets that I'm not her mommy -- I'm Lady Macbeth -- but she's only 7."

"Macbeth" opens at the Folger tomorrow night at 7:30. It runs Tuesday through Sunday until April 10. Call 546-4000.