"Macbeth" is often viewed as a Shakespeare primer for young audiences. When done right, the dark, atmospheric and action-filled play can enthrall adults and also command the attention of the most fidgety youngster.
The Globe's production, served up in repertory at the Shakespeare Summer Festival, has the poetry and heavy psychological drama that speaks to adults, along with the cool visual factor that will please kids (particularly boys) in the audience. The Scottish play is directed here by Paul Mullins with an eye for clarity, spectacle and spookiness.
The play begins vividly on a violent battlefield crowded with costume designer Linda Cho's medieval blue tunics, and then cuts to a slow motion, hazy sequence where the three witches swirl into the bedlam in striking blood-red robes. It's a stunning opener that sets the bar high, melding a filmic sensibility of imagery with the theater's beauty of movement.
"Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare's most popular works, and is his shortest tragedy. It tells the story of a general who would be king -- the desire that drives him to regicide and the guilt that afflicts him afterward. Macbeth's tentative claim to the throne requires that he continue to shed blood to keep it, and order is eventually restored only when he is vanquished (this is fairly kid-friendly territory, so don't expect a beheading here).
Tom Hammond's Macbeth is handsome with a noble bearing, and his speech is clear and nuanced. His is an intellectualized, psychological portrayal, though some may yearn for a bolder display of passion and calamity. Hammond ably traverses his character's arc from faithful subject tormented by lust for power, to killer tortured by his own misdeeds, to haughty and bloodthirsty tyrant who believes himself unbeatable.
Better yet is Deirdre Lovejoy's Lady Macbeth, at least in the first act. Hers is a blistering portrayal of unbridled ambition, treachery and sexual persuasion in private, tempered by femininity and wifely concern in public.
But Lovejoy takes a strange tack in the sleepwalking scene of the second half, overplaying Lady Macbeth's condition. Her wailing, fits and starts are more jarring than haunting, and have more of lunacy in them than guilt.
Michael A. Newcomer turns in a fine performance as the honorable Macduff, whose barely controlled grief on learning of his wife and children's death is heartbreaking. J. Paul Boehmer is by turns agreeable and eerie as Banquo, and Jonathan McMurtry provides comic relief as the porter.
Long after you exit the theater, Director Mullins' vaporous, brooding and brutal images will remain. Ralph Funicello's sets are spare, lending to the desolation and psychological sense of isolation. The banquet scene is simply yet effectively wrought, making use of the stage's turntable floor and York Kennedy's appropriately spooky lighting. Also memorable is the witches' cauldron scene, the cauldron here an outsized mirror-tiled bowl used to great effect.
More than this, the many commonly lifted lines of Shakespeare will be given -- especially for new Shakespeare audiences -- renewed meaning.
PROGRAM: "Macbeth," by William Shakespeare, directed by Paul Mullins
Organization: The Old Globe
Dates: Through Oct. 2
Show times: Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., in nightly rotation with "The Comedy of Errors" and "The Winter's Tale"
Location: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, The Old Globe, Balboa Park
More information: (619) 23-GLOBE, www.theglobetheatres.com