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Undone

Al fresco 'Macbeth' pumps up the weird

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SOMETHING WICKED  There’s no shortage of gore in the Cannery’s production of the Scottish play.
  • SOMETHING WICKED There’s no shortage of gore in the Cannery’s production of the Scottish play.

A seriously gonzo Macbeth, a bit problematic but full of spooky pleasures, has just kicked off the North Bay summer Shakespeare season, perhaps not with a bang, but definitely a large crackle of creative energy—and featuring some literal bangs courtesy of Sonoma County Taiko.

In the third season of Shakespeare in the Cannery—in the old cannery ruins near Railroad Square—director David Lear unleashes an offbeat, ancient-future-style take on the bloody masterpiece, blending the modern (jeans, combat boots, naturalistic deliveries of lines) with the traditional (capes, cackling witches, blood-drenched swords). Overall, Lear's vision is impressive, springing masks, trapdoors and a whole toolbox of other theatrical tricks, including those Taiko drummers pounding out a live percussive score.

Shakespeare's eerie supernatural tragedy tells the twisty-gory tale of a highly suggestible Scottish warrior (Ben Stowe, emphasizing the reluctance and fear beneath his character's fighting facade) and his blindly ambitious wife (Ilana Niernberger, coolly cruel, but only up to a point). Goaded into traitorous action by the riddle-spouting Weird Sisters (Saskia Bauer, Lauren Heney, Taylor Diffenderfer), who tell Macbeth he will become king, the married first-time murderers launch a horrific crown-stealing plan, killing Duncan the king, shifting blame to his sons and then taking his throne. Unfortunately, Macbeth just can't seem to stop killing people, and the whole scheme collapses into madness and mayhem.

On a pleasingly playground-like stage, the performances sometimes stray toward the big, heightened and slightly overacted. That's not necessarily a bad choice for an outdoor show, but in this case, what is gained in terms of clarity and size is sometimes lost in terms of subtlety and absorbing emotion.

Still, there are some very strong moments, fueled by several effectively surprising choices. As Duncan, the doomed king, Clark Miller convincingly plays the monarch's essential sweetness. Eric Thompson, as a servant in Macbeth's castle, makes the smutty most of the play's one comedic scene. And Sam Coughlin, as Duncan's vengeful son, is impressively complex in a very small part. And as Macbeth's fellow warrior Banquo, Alan Kaplan brings a sense of affronted decency and a solid soldier's bearing to a role usually played by a much younger man.

Energetic and ambitious, like poor befuddled Macbeth himself, this production may sometimes stumble, but it definitely brings the sound and fury.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

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