At the point at which daydreams and nightmares meld lives this one-man Macbeth. Can any one person say whether the concept withstands Shakespearean scholarship or Jungian examination? This shouldn't matter to most of us, because it fulfills every requisite of theatrical storytelling. Listening to two unbroken hours of monologue, the audience collectively suffers theatrical apnea; we dare not breathe.
Actor Stephen Dillane and director Travis Preston have created a work that is modern in sensibility as well as classically pure, a work that is ecstatic as well as darkly shattering. Shakespeare is trimmed, indeed translated into French in a portion of Lady Macbeth's dialogue, but otherwise spoken as he wrote it. And Dillane speaks it all: Banquo at a low growl, Duncan a crouching old man, Macduff with a Scottish brogue—all done subtly and with craft. Dillane can make his voice big or light; the language sluices from his body. Barefoot on a stage filled with dark glistening sand that has been brutalized into tiny dunes, he trudges, tiptoes, collapses, slithers, slides sleepily into bed to recite "Tomorrow and tomorrow …" and then rubs the sand into his by-then soaked hair until he looks somehow younger and yet more regal. With no scene breaks, there's no rest for him or for us; between his skills and Preston's we are guided firmly and dare not look back. Only a quick stumble into the audience as Macbeth sees the ghost—and, wow, does Dillane convince us he sees it—breaks our concentration.
He stands before six huge white blocks resembling a wall of limestone (scenic design by Christopher Barreca) always lit in white light. But to shape and place scenes, the lighting (designed by Benoît Beauchamp) casts shadows or is shadowless, creates silhouettes or flattens the actor, reads cool or hot. And not only shaping scenes but also signaling characters and accenting words is the music of Vinny Golia (who plays contrabass flute and bass clarinet, accompanied by Jeremy Drake on electric guitar and "pedal effects" and Harris Eisenstadt on percussion).
This production probably shouldn't be an audience member's first Macbeth. It certainly inspires us to not make it our last. Dillane and Preston have taught this old dog many new tricks.
"Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy)," presented by and at REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A. 8:30 p.m. Wed. Nov. 24; Fri.-Sun. Nov. 26-28; Tue.-Sun. Nov. 30-Dec. 5 & Dec. 7-12. $8-40. (213) 237-2800.