From the moment the lights go up, Jobsite Theater's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth pits the Macbeths and the Macduffs against each other, each couple embracing on opposite sides of the small stage as if each pair was the wrong end of a magnet.
This tight cut of the Scottish play carries the theme of opposing but coexisting forces throughout, focusing on these two families and how they deal with the most elemental human emotions – ambition, vengeance, pride and greed. The play is boiled down to its most poignant parts, and it packs a big punch in the close quarters of the theater. It's a seamless adaptation by director David M. Jenkins that keeps a quick pace without sacrificing any integrity of the text.
But the concept gets a little unwieldy when handguns are discarded in favor of daggers.
A director's note in the playbill sets the production in a "modern fantasy world." It's just ambiguous enough to allow the creative team to take some liberties, which is what doing Shakespeare in 2013 is all about. But an ambiguous world still needs to be consistent.
In the first act, the only weapons used are daggers. Seems like the "modern fantasy world" setting could call for weapons a little more contemporary, but because pivotal scenes in Macbeth are contingent on hands being covered with blood, the daggers seemed justified. It would be a stretch if Lady Macbeth's "out damn spot" monologue was referencing gunshot residue.
But then at the top of the second act, Macbeth pulls a handgun on Banquo's ghost. It turns the tables and pulls you out of a world that just spent an hour establishing its parameters. It feels like someone changed the rules to Rock Paper Scissors by saying, "Okay, Fire is allowed now, and it beats everything." As strong as the cast, script and concept are, it's frustrating that they're bogged down with Jenkins' attempt to bring technology into the 17th century play.
The four swing actors, credited as the Powers, gracefully tackle the tall order of playing all of the supporting characters. Katrina Stevenson in particular shines as one of the "weird sisters" and Chris Holcom brings much-needed comic relief as the drunken porter. Giles Davies has an impressive understanding of and talent for Shakespeare's language, managing to make Macbeth a sympathetic character while his plan to take the crown spirals out of control. He works beautifully in tandem with Dahlia Legault (Lady Macbeth), who has an unsettling quiver of crazy in her voice from the moment she asks the spirits to "Unsex me here / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty."
A clever but distracting projection screen casts images of ghosts that appear to Macbeth when he last encounters the weird sisters. The multimedia concept is good, but when actors are saying lines in front of the screen as the characters being projected, it's jarring.
Jobsite's Macbeth is strong it its minimalism, clearly communicating the elemental themes your high school English teacher helped you sift through with powerful staging and an even stronger cast. It could be an entirely immersive experience if its world were better defined.