It's a matter of grave importance among superstitious Shakespearean actors and adepts that one must never refer to the play "Macbeth" or its title character by name inside a theater. According to lore, uttering the word outside of rehearsing or performing the script will open your production up to all manner of bad luck and trouble.
During rehearsals for the production of "Macbeth" (don't read this review in a theater, just to be safe) that opened on Friday night in the New Phoenix Theatre, somebody must have slipped up.
One morning in late February, as director Kelli Bocock-Natale was preparing to strike the set of the previous production at the New Phoenix (which she also directed), she slipped on some stairs and seriously broke her ankle. The production had to be postponed by a week.
Judging by Friday's performance of "Macbeth," darker than dark and crackling with violent sexual energy, the curse has worn off. Bocock-Natale's breathless version of the show, already taut by Shakespearean standards, succeeds largely on the performances of leads Kate LoConti (Lady Macbeth) and Brian Riggs (Macbeth) with support from the gifted Eric Rawski (Macduff and others) as well as Caitlin Coleman, Marie Costa, Darryl Hart, Adam Rath and John Kreuzer.
Helped with live electric cello music beautifully performed by Emily Elkin, Bocock-Natale quickly sets a foreboding tone and sticks with it. Dressed in post-apocalyptic goth costumes by O'Donnell, the characters in this "Macbeth" seem a bit too much like nihilistic wanderers with nothing to lose but their own lives.
A quick refresher: Macbeth is a Scottish general who chances upon a trio of witches, who tell him that he will soon be king. Enticed by the prospect of power, the blood-hungry Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to carry out all manner of murder in the service of the witches' prophesy. But things get dicey on the bloody road to total Scottish domination.
The witches are portrayed as scampering animals straight out of Tolkien by Costa, Coleman and the interminably croaking Rath. Bocock-Natale has them appear during scenes in which Macbeth carries out the gruesome murders which set up the dominoes of his own demise, thus double-underlining the already explicit role of fate and the occult in the action of the play.
The interplay between LoConti and Riggs is as sexually charged as it can get. Rawski, in his delivery of a speech by the gravely wronged Macduff after he hears that Macbeth has murdered his wife and children, turns in a wrenching performance full of credible injury and naked outrage. It's a demonstration of excellent chops from an actor too rarely seen in non-comic roles.
Kreuzer (a gifted comedian), Costa, Hart and Coleman all turn in competent performances in othe roles.
If it's a night of tense, physical drama you seek, this production won't disappoint. Just try not to reignite the curse.
3 stars (out of 4)
Drama presented through April 10 in the New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, 95 N. Johnson Park.
For information: 853-1334, www.newphoenixtheatre.com.