It’s a bold move for a new theater company to tackle a well known Shakespearean work in their first outing; it’s another thing entirely to take on a show that is the very definition of bad luck in theater circles. Impossible Theater Company has done just that, overcoming the curse of “The Scottish Play” and making a confident entrance to the DC theater community with their ambitious spin on Shakespeare’s superstition-riddled tragedy, Macbeth.
For those unfamiliar with this particular work of Shakespeare, the tale centers on Thane Macbeth and his wife Lady MacBeth, two Scottish nobles who seek to overthrow King Duncan, ruler of Scotland. Once Macbeth ascends to the throne, things go awry and soon both he and his wife are forced to take drastic measures to preserve their secret – measures which set off a chain reaction of death, destruction, and magical prophecy that ripples across the land.
Fresh out of college, young director Nick Jonczak seems eager to leave his own mark on the well known text. Jonczak’s most notable artistic innovation involves cross-gendered casting, including female soldiers and assassins and even a male member of the Weird Sisters. These inversions of traditional roles introduce novel situations, toying with notions of male and female sexuality and introducing romantic tension into formerly platonic relationships. It doesn’t affect the plot in any significant manner, but it still generates a few interesting “What if?” questions about gender roles, both Shakespearean and current.
Three notable performances anchor the production. As cursed Thane Macbeth, Josh Murray delivers an assured, emotionally raw performance. Sporting an ornate leather jacket and serrated sword, Murray exhibits both magnetism and menace. He manages spells of authoritative swagger and gyres of wailing madness with a consistent level of energy and focus. As the conniving Lady Macbeth, Sarah Stephens is the picture of sophistication and cool, at least until the appearance of a certain “damned spot”. Stephens possesses a sort of ethereal beauty and grace that serves her well in her dual roles as the venomous queen and the goddess Hecate.
Eric Humphries delivers a moving turn as Macduff, the honorable counterpoint to the titular Machiavellian madman. In the heart-wrenching scene wherein he learns of his tragic loss, Humphries appears paralyzed by emotion. In the riveting moments that follow, grief, confusion, and terrible anger battle for control just beneath his calm yet pained exterior.
The rest of the cast puts forth a strong effort, which falls just short of greatness due to several spates of forgotten lines and stilted dialogue.
The sparse set design leaves much to the imagination, incorporating only a grey monolith that doubles as a throne and an ornate table that anchors banquet setting and war room alike. However, elaborate set pieces are rendered unnecessary by Aaron Fisher’s sharp, high resolution projections. Fisher’s visuals create the rather convincing illusion of a grand castle or vast forest, allowing the production to frequently transcend the modest confines of the Warehouse Theater. The scene wherein MacDuff’s men conceal themselves in Birnam Wood showcases a particularly clever blend of staging and projection, which elicited murmurs of awe and approval from the audience.
Featuring powerful performances and transportive visual design, Macbeth is two hours well spent, especially given the crazy low $10 ticket price. Judging from this creative rendering of one of the Bard’s best, Impossible Theatre Company’s future looks bright indeed.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Nick Jonczak
Produced by Impossible Theater Company
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Runtime: 2 hours (15 minute intermission)