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Theater Review: "Macbeth"

Jonathan Cake as Macbeth and Clifton Duncan as Macduff in William Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Photo credit:
Jim Cox

What can you do to spruce up Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” that old warhorse we read in ninth grade and have been seeing regularly ever since?

Director Brian Kulick has decided to move the time frame up to what appears to be World War I, and to open the show not on those rocks with the witches but in a field hospital, with the wounded in a semi-circle of beds around which the action will swirl – and with which the characters will almost seem to dance, as they wheel the beds (on rollers) on and offstage as the scene changes.

But of course “Macbeth” is anything but a lighthearted piece; it’s a bloody story of ambition, murder, retribution and insanity set off by a prophecy that the general Macbeth “shall be king hereafter.”

And when Lady Macbeth tells her husband that Scottish King Duncan and his retinue will spend the night with them, the plot is hatched to hasten the king’s demise.

Macbeth will find that killing Duncan is just the beginning, and he must have others killed as well if he is to solidify his position as king.

A red plastic shower curtain is drawn across the back of the stage to signify the blood still to flow. It’s a little crude, but so is murder.

Jonathan Cake makes Macbeth’s pitiable transition from military hero to tortured murderer with a mind “full of scorpions” quite moving, even more so when he gets word of Lady Macbeth’s suicide.

Blake’s Lady Macbeth is just as ambitious but less evil than others I have seen, and the pace of her speech doesn’t match the rest of the cast.

This Lady M is in a hurry to get the job done (a credible interpretation), but her line readings suffer a bit in the rush. And the sight of her in what appeared to be a flight attendant’s uniform (but was probably supposed to be a military one) was, well, a little strange.

Clifton Duncan’s Macduff (who will eventually do in Macbeth) is excellent, as are several others including John Lavelle as the Porter, who gets a hilarious never-before-seen comedic duet with a nurse before he answers that infernal knock.

You can do pretty much what you will with “Macbeth,” and though this isn’t my favorite version, it adds another wrinkle or two to the possibilities.

The details

“Macbeth” plays through July 24, 2016 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org