Macbeth from Arizona Curriculum Theater Is Fair and Foul

A good friend of mine used to manage a bookstore. (A lot of people used to manage a bookstore.) In their proud, intellectual geekiness, her employees tended to look just terrible. It wasn't that anyone expected them to spend money on clothes; if they'd just made the effort to be clean, modest, and not too raggedy or wrinkled, the customers would have felt a bit more respected.

The virtue of making an effort is on display to excellent effect in Arizona Curriculum Theater's production of Macbeth, with a live soundscape by Bartholomew Faire. A heap of talent, hard work, and serious thought has gone into the creation of this show, creating a setting in which each element shines to its best advantage.

In a few cases, the best they can be is not as good as you might like. It could be that director James David Porter was confident that Vincent A. Ruiz would be the best Macbeth out of all the available actors he auditioned, but it didn't work out that way. However, at those moments when Ruiz mangles the meter, syntax, and poetry of his lines, it honestly would be a lot more distressing if it weren't that the energy of his castmates, the tight direction, and the beautifully balanced production design support an overall experience that's still some of the best Shakespeare you're likely to see in Phoenix in our lifetimes.

The 90-minute script (adapted by Porter) is easy to follow, partly because of sweet vocal work and actors who, for the most part, know what they're saying, which makes all the difference. In fact, I've seen Macbeth several times before (and even kind-of/sort-of been in it once), yet this production cast the whole prophecy/fate/free will theme in a light in which I'd never considered it before -- and that was largely thanks to Ruiz, who isn't entirely awful.

The violence, from the larger war scenes to the intimate murders, is swift, convincing, and unselfconscious. Danette Porter's costumes work hand in hand with the lighting design (or its inherent limitations) to give the impression of a bleak, bereft world of shifting loyalties and harsh reality.

Early-music group Bartholomew Faire plays from a draped alcove outside Soul Invictus' garage door. Their huge drum collection is a perfect fit for the show, and the rest of the instrumentation, including the horns and bells that are leitmotifs of the script, is well-arranged and always at a complementary volume and tempo.

In addition to being a bloody, relentless juggernaut of a story, this Macbeth is chock-full of frights, twists, and surprises, and the well-crafted atmosphere and pacing deserve all the creepiness Grand Avenue can muster. I suggest attending a nighttime performance rather than a matinee, and because of the aforementioned open garage door, bundle up.

Macbeth continues through Saturday, January 28, at Soul Invictus, 1022 Grand Avenue. Tickets are $15 and $20; order here or call 1-888-343-4228.

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