Men behaving badly

Toil and trouble in Scotland—or someplace.

MACBETH

Seattle Center House, Performance Studio, 325-6500, $10-$24 pay-what-you-will Thurs., Oct. 25 7:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sun. ends Sun., Nov. 11

MACBETH CLIMBS from the witches' cauldron, a buff and brawny creation of the underworld, and, clad only in loincloth and necklace, proceeds quickly to his grisly murder of the king for his crown, then to slaughtering whole families to maintain his ill-gotten power. Director Michael Kevin has excised all references to Scotland in this spare but audacious Seattle Shakespeare Company staging, setting the action within some indefinite, primordial culture to forge a lively spook show. The three witches whose prophecies spur Macbeth's ambition are only apparitions, menacing eyes dancing on the backdrop. All supporting characters, meanwhile, have been folded into a chorus of "Ministers of Darkness," stepping out of their shrouds as needed to play the roles of Banquo, Lennox, or Macduff.

Rex Young's Macbeth is so masculine that he reminds less of Gielgud than of Heston in Planet of the Apes. This is due in large part to the near nakedness of the mostly male cast and, although a desire to be sophisticated might shame the confession, it's horribly off-putting. It's clear that Kevin is trying to get at the primal essence of men's motives and that he has taken inspiration from Orson Welles' legendary 1936 "voodoo" production. But by placing Macbeth in this primitive setting, he has, in effect, demoted the Thane of Glamis to a tribal warrior. Kevin has unwittingly lowered the stakes, and lessened our interest. Macbeth's butchery can't offend civilization because there's none here to breach. What does savagery matter among savages?

There are fine performances here, in particular Amy Thone's rendering of the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth and Kevin McKeon as the grieving Macduff, but the root deficiency of the show's conception limits how high they can soar. With its incantations and blood, Macbeth should be chilling. In this version, everyone just looks chilly.

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