Just because Bill Shakespeare wrote some of the greatest plays in the universe doesn't mean he created the universe itself. The man's not God—after all, he's responsible for the theater's most unperformable major role. Prior to the regicide her hubby commits, Lady Macbeth has a hold on sanity approximately the width of a hair off a German shepherd's butt. And that window is just too exquisitely thin for one human being to straddle. The actor comes off as either a skanky ol' fishwife or the abject monster she is; in my experience, nobody's come particularly close to transiting the two.
But don't tell the fledgling Intrepid Shakespeare Company. These folks see Macbeth, their inaugural show, for what it is—a dirge-like primer on exercising care, and lots of it, about what you wish for. Their youthful exuberance and modernist trappings speak to the theme's universal applications; with the help of acclaimed local Shakespeare scholar Jonathan McMurtry, they've managed to retain Bill's values while keeping the piece to a brisk 90 minutes. Purists might object to all this, but I found Intrepid's turn remarkably smart, and it left me wondering what they'll do for an encore. Y'all know the totally tragic story: The brilliant Scottish military man Macbeth (Sean Cox) and his psycho wife (Christy Yael) plot to pop King Duncan (Mark C. Petrich) amid the prophecy that Macbeth will succeed him. They'll succeed, but their bloodlust blinds them to the ultimate price. They meet their ends as the infamous “Double, double, toil and trouble” swirls about the stage—only this time, the core cast members recite the passage instead of the traditional trio of witches, a risky but palatable shift from Bill's fascination with the occult.
The Shakespeare Police needn't worry about the abbreviated text, either. With Bill, character development takes a back seat to oratory—you play only what's on the page, much the way you'd sing a song or strum a guitar, and that affords text advisor McMurtry and the cast a certain leeway in choosing the passages. They may have cut the script, but they haven't missed a thing in preserving the play's cadence, and the cast responds with turns of its own. Yael's “Out, damn spot” speech is a model of subtlety, and co-director Cox is masterful amid Macbeth's capitulation, at the last second of his life, to the forces that made off with his mind long ago.
In watching co-director Jason D. Rennie's treatments, I couldn't help but think of the old Poor Players Theatre, so adept in its so-called “no holds Bard” jaunts onto Bill's turf. Two days later, I about lost my lunch at the irony. The company's back, mounting Measure for Measure, its first piece in 643 seasons, starting with a preview on Thursday, July 23, in Vista (for more, see www.poorplayers.com). The Players actually made me moderate my theory on Elizabethan costumes where I never thought anything would —but it's Intrepid's Macbeth that recently got me to thinking about their past acclaim. If you enjoy their work, you'll surely like Intrepid, for the same reasons. Great to have these folks among the city's young and hungry companies, and I look forward to more.This review is based on the opening-night production of July 10. Macbeth runs through Aug. 9 at Compass Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest. $18-$20. 619-688-9210, www.compasstheatre.com.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.