The Living Room’s production of “Macbeth” is a stripped-down yet strong version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Running 90 minutes, with two actors playing all the roles, the abridgement cuts the story into a leaner, more muscular shape and forces it into a more intimate perspective.
The play, which was adapted by, directed by and stars Kyle Hatley, hones in on the most dramatic scenes — the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan, Macbeth’s guilt-stricken vision of the murdered Banquo, the slaughter of Macduff’s family, and the final battle.
Hatley and Natalie Liccardello play all the roles, while the third player, Sean Hogge, provides sound effects and music. It all happens on a set that blurs the distinction between audience and stage, and it takes a few minutes for all of these self-consciously artistic choices to settle in. Watching actors converse with themselves requires an extra ounce of suspension of disbelief; actors with their backs to you can be sometimes hard to hear.
But once all the elements find a rhythm, it works well. The players seem to take on more personality as the play goes on. Macbeth’s freakout at seeing Banquo’s ghost is tense and funny. Liccardello delivers a devastating, extended take on Lady Macduff in the moments before all her children are murdered in front of her. The play hits its climax with Hatley, on his own, performing the battle between Macduff and Macbeth, alternating personas with every line.
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Though “Macbeth” is celebrated and studied for its exploration of such weighty ideas as treachery, ambition and guilt, by casting only two players, this version of the tragedy becomes a more personal story. We’re watching for the characters and their changing relationships more than for the plot or the language.
The music, played by Hogge, and sound design by David Kiehl provide atmosphere without distracting, although the role of Player 3 in the meta-drama that’s going on below the surface is never quite made clear.
Nicole Jaja’s lighting does a lot of work in setting tone and demarking scenes. When the witches are present, the lighting abruptly shifts, as if a camera has flipped a lens, throwing the encounters between Macbeth and the witches into another plane of existence, outside the realm of everyday experience. At other times, candles provide the only light, and the space is small and open enough to support this.
Hatley and company are going for a timeless quality, presenting the play as something that goes beyond its 17th-century provenance and strikes at the very roots of humanity. So the actors also take on the role as narrators and verbalize various stage directions (“Enter Banquo,” “A bell rings”). This serves the practical purpose of orienting the audience in the scene with such a minimal set and costumes. But more importantly, it situates the play in an oral tradition. We in the audience may very well be around a campfire listening to the myths and legends that shape our culture.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” continues through Sept. 3 at the Living Room Theatre, 1818 McGee St. Call 816-533-5857 or see thelivingroomkc.com.