For anyone who hasn’t seen Shakespeare before, Insurgo Theater Movement’s Macbeth is a good introduction to the darker works of the Bard. The production is quite traditional in contrast with recent interpretations, such as those set in a modern restaurant or populated by punk biker gangs. Strobe lightning and rousing bagpipes set the scene for witchcraft and battle on the Scottish moors. Geo Nikols (most recently in Insurgo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Theseus) is rather young for the part of Macbeth, but he projects an air of grounded self-confidence. Nikols’ Macbeth seems exhausted by the prospect of murdering the king, running fingers through his hair in frustration. As the atmosphere darkens and the body count rises, he repeatedly dissolves into boyish sobs, adding a pitiable childlike quality to his performance.
Director John Morris’ vision focuses on the conflict and tension of war-torn Scotland, mirrored by the conflict within the main characters’ minds. “Scotland was in political upheaval during the time of the play, a dark time, an uncertain time,” he says.
Any staging of Shakespeare presents actors with the risk of losing themselves in the language; it can be hard to make archaic speech emotionally relevant to the audience. More often than not, a kind of pompous recitation invades the characters, making them mouthpieces of Elizabethan verse, spinning syllables with little humanity behind them. Presentational theater is beautiful to hear but hard to watch, and Insurgo takes a more organic, conversational approach.
The ensemble is evidently warned against showy staging. When characters inhabit the language with immediacy and emotional intent, the force of their personalities shines through. Nikols’ monologues are heavy with dread and reluctance, and Maythinee Washington’s Lady Macbeth moves with a malevolent sensuality. When Macbeth’s mortal enemy, Macduff, played by Sean Critchfield (returning to the stage after directing Three Viewings at CSN), faces our antihero in the end, Nikols releases a shuddering sigh that caused the audience to laugh on opening night. Macbeth, for all his potions, is a man staring death in the face: “This is just my luck,” says that sigh.
Emotions run as high as blood smears the stage and elaborate fight scenes determine the next king of Scotland. Macduff is enthralling in moments of naked grief over his loss, and Lady Macbeth gibbers and wails in guilty terror. If madness, murder and magic appeal to your Shakespearean tastes, then attend this show. The pacing could use tightening, and there is a scene of gratuitous sensuality; that aside, this show delivers what is promised: blood, and plenty of it.
Insurgo Theater Movement, $15, 8 p.m. Aug. 27-Sept. 4, Fridays and Saturdays, 900 E. Karen Ave., Suite D114
(Full disclosure: Rosalie Miletich has acted in previous Insurgo productions, although she is not an ensemble member.)