A variation on the lugubrious tone comes with the Porter "knock, knock, knock"-ing with a message to a drumbeat as Dillane thrusts his groin to the rhythm, and the band swirls into a slightly dissonant jazz riff.
Despite the synopsis in the program, if you give two hoots about comprehending the story, you’d be well-served to re-acquaint yourself with Macbethbefore arriving at the REDCAT. Though there are no other Macbeths running in the city, Ionesco’s spin on the play, Macbett, performs concurrently at West Hollywood’s Globe Playhouse. (Go to http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/02/theater-mikulan.php for a feature on that production.) Though the Dillane/Preston version of the play is a mere edit rather than a reconstruction (a couple of scenes excised, plus internal cuts), the reference points commonly used to differentiate characters — new faces, voices, a variety of costumes, even reactions — are blurred if not eviscerated. And it is, after all, the characters who tell the story, which the audience receives largely in the spaces between them. When all the characters come through one sorcerer, the only space that really matters is the one between the actor and the audience, and the effect is that of a conjuring. This glorifies the actor and his capacity for magic-making — a transcendence exemplified by the likes of Ruth Draper and Lily Tomlin and Danny Hoch in their solo shows.
This performance, however, isn’t about channeling a few folks from the ether in order to generate some humor and poignancy. This is Macbeth, isn’t it? So what exactly is gained from the changing of its transmission? The play becomes a poem. It’s no longer so much about characters and action as about voices and emotional cauldrons. It’s no longer so much a story with a plot as a vortex of feelings about treacherous lust for power. Dillane and Preston have rarefied the tragedy from an ostentatious drama of primal impulses to a piece of music that might be called "The Macbeth Variations." They’ve transformed the play into a meditation on the play.
As meditations go, it’s certainly a visceral one, and absolutely enchanting, but I’m not at all convinced it’s an improvement on the original. Watching Macduff’s horror when realizing that his family has been killed and watching Macbeth’s contrapuntally blithe response to the death of his queen are both revelations you can also get from a full production. Here, we get the banquet scene without the clashing of dishes or characters. Thanks, but I’ll take the clamor. This is a Macbethsketched in charcoal; Shakespeare painted in oils.
MACBETH (A MODERN ECSTASY) | Performed by STEPHEN DILLANE | Directed by TRAVIS PRESTON Presented by CALARTS CENTER FOR NEW THEATER AT REDCAT, DISNEY HALL, Second and Hope streets, downtown | Through December 12 | (213) 237-2800