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Fair Is Foul 

Loading Zone's minimal 'Macbeth' is frighteningly intimate


Midnight on Halloween, the witching hour. There I was at 11:45pm, chugging caffeinated beverages along with some 15 other theater-loving insomniacs, preparing to experience a special sneak preview of the Loading Zone Theater's super-creepy new production of the Scottish Play. (Macbeth began its regular run last Friday, beginning each night at the sensible hour of 8pm.) The cast and crew deserve mega-kudos just for attempting this midnight launch, especially when one considers that there was also a 9pm show earlier that night, meaning these actors performed two lengthy stagings back to back.

In the Loading Zone's small 45-seat black box theater, no chair is farther than about 12 feet from the performance area. You can literally hear a whisper—which is good, because this Macbeth is full of hushed asides and softly murmured threats, easily the most intimate staging of Mackers that I've ever seen. That intimacy serves the production well. Directed by David Lear, this version, acted out by a cast of five actors shape-shifting from one character to another, highlights the mystical undercurrents in Shakespeare's text, imbuing the entire play with an aura of pleasantly inevitable dread, bringing the audience intimately within the nightmarish twists and turns of fate, the banal accidents and audacities and desperate improvisations of individual evil.

Macbeth, at its heart, is a classic noir thriller, and this production, though still working through some rough patches and pacing issues on the night I saw it, clearly captures that noirish tone, dousing everything in a hell broth of pagan danger and awestruck wonder. With its knives and thrones made of bones and a soundtrack of rumbling tones, this Macbeth boasts a visual and auditory style that is exhilarating and, in places, remarkably scary.

Encouraged by the unexpected prophesies of a quartet of highland witches (who prowl the stage making off-putting animal noises, creeping and lurching through the set's atmospherically tangled curtain of rotting trees and twisted branches), the Scottish warrior Macbeth (David Yen, nicely manifesting the ticks and whispers of cautious uncertainty) makes the mistake of telling his wife, Lady Macbeth (Corisa Aaronson), that a bunch of witches just told him he'd someday be king.

Playing on his obvious adoration of her (Lady Macbeth is played by Aaronson as a woman who believes a little too fiercely in her husband's leadership abilities), she convinces Macbeth to murder the current king and assume the throne. Once the murder is done, all hell breaks loose, with those Fate-like witches (played with intense physical commitment by Denise Elia, Ryan Schmidt and Jan Freifeld) constantly showing up to push the mayhem forward.

Except for Yen, who plays only the one part, the four other actors take on all the other roles in the play, stripping the script of its original grandeur but replacing it with something effectively immediate and otherworldly, lending the play a kind of multiple personality disorder that works well with its themes of madness and flip-flopping identity. The entire cast is excellent, gender-swapping and easing in and out of 20 different characters, but as Malcolm, the son of the murdered king, and especially as Hecate, the queen of the witches (an invention specific to this production), Elia is the standout, giving a performance of mesmerizing intensity that is as brave and assured as it is detailed and riveting.

In the end, the real star of the show is the director. Lear strips Macbeth down and rebuilds it into something fresh and pulse-pounding and incredibly weird. Whether Shakespeare would approve is another question. The final image, in which the audience is invited to imagine themselves following Macbeth's footsteps to the throne, is effective in reminding us that ultimately Macbeth is not about the seething violence that lurked below the skin of some crazy Medieval Scotsman whose ambitions got the better of him. In the end, it's about you and me.

'Macbeth' runs Friday&–Sunday through Nov. 24. Friday&–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Loading Zone Theater, in the old Lincoln Arts Center, 709 Davis St., Suite 208, Santa Rosa. All seats are pay-what-you-will; advance reservations necessary. 707.765.4843.

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