In the role of Macbeth, Jack Stehlin the actor instructs his assassins that “’twere well it were done quickly.” It’s a direction Jack Stehlin the director also takes very much to heart in the New American Theatre company’s 95-minute “Macbeth: Revisited” — a stylized, minimalist staging that pares Shakespeare’s text to its darkest elements of o’erleaping ambition, corruption and madness.
Scarlet and black are the dominant colors in the production’s surreal vision of a kingdom torn apart by witchcraft and bloodshed; actors’ faces painted ashen gray further the sense of grotesque circus theatricality.
Out of the gate, Stehlin’s bug-eyed, snarling Macbeth leaves no room to wonder if there was ever a core of decency that warranted the respect and trust accorded him by the king and countrymen he is about to betray. The carefully pruned text emphasizes the confessional asides of a megalomaniac who finds only confirmation, rather than recognition, in the dark prophesies of the weird sisters (actually weird bearded bros in this gender-bent casting). Logistical caution, rather than the milk of human kindness, seems to drive his momentary hesitation before killing King Duncan (regal David Purdham, amusingly doubling as the drunken porter of the castle’s hell-gate). Later, Macbeth shows no such reluctance when it comes to eliminating former friend Banquo (earnest Susan Ziegler), though he convincingly pays for it with what’s left of his sanity.
Despite some heavy smooching with his first lady (suitably calculating Vanessa Waters), Macbeth is narcissistically indifferent to his eventual loss of her, his famous “tomorrow and tomorrow” speech driven by horror of his own existential void.
Throughout the piece, Stehlin brings luminous clarity and precision to some of the most intricate verse in the Shakespeare canon. Among the 15-member cast, however, some of the peripherals are hard-pressed to handle much more than the meter.
Stehlin and his company have focused on daring contemporary adaptations in their previous “Redux” productions of Shakespeare plays — notably, “Titus Andronicus” with the title character as a victim of Iraq-Afghanistan post-traumatic stress disorder, and a shockingly downbeat “Tempest” finale tied to the Syrian refugee crisis. In comparison, “Macbeth: Revisited” is more by-the-book (albeit a shortened one) than reinterpretation. Then again, maybe a cautionary tale about sociopathic tyranny doesn’t need one nowadays.
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Where: The Second Stage at Sacred Fools Theater, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; ends May 13
Running time: 1 hours, 35 minutes
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