Hell is a continuous loop of your crimes, pains, terrors and death, unto eternity: tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. That's the idea behind Unseam'd Shakespeare Co.'s production of Macbeth 3, a tight, one-act, three-person, cross-gendered and anachronistic retelling of the Bard's bloodiest tragedy.
The words are nearly all Shakespeare's, lifted straight from the original, but with a new character in the adaptation by Lisa Wolpe, then deconstructed and re-adapted some more by director Michael Hood. Satan appears personally to tempt and torment Macbeth, with and for his regicide and subsequent murders.
With only three actors portraying all the characters -- one for Macbeth and two for everybody else -- it can be confusing if you don't know the play. The intimate staging throws more emphasis onto the words themselves, their multiple meanings and interpretations. Shakespeare has much to say here about manhood, so what does it signify that the title character is played by a woman? Is the recasting of Macbeth's gender a part of his eternal punishment? Does it underscore the irony and futility of the Scot's macho posing? And what to make of Lady Macbeth being played by a man who doubles as the Devil?
The performances are exemplary -- Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Macbeth, Rich Venezia as the Lady (and no drag), and the spookily androgynous Jennifer Tober as various thanes, witches, etc. But what's even more striking is how they move, even flow together, not just in the fight scenes (choreographed by Hood). Credit the choreography by Joan E. Van Dyke. Tober seems particularly boneless as a wraith.
As it should be, Hell is creepy. The dun-colored set, by Gordon Phetteplace, is appropriately, gloomily lit by lighting designer Michael Boone. But it's Mark Whitehead's primordial soundscape that really anchors the locale in some low circle of Hades. Applause also to costume designer and collaborator (respectively) Molly Simpson and Marissa Miskanin for spanning the centuries militarily, and conjuring some timeless phantoms.
Shakespeare was not shy about filling his plays with sex and death as well as poetic and comic language. Pared to the bone, Macbeth 3 is intimate and intense. Definitely not the PG version.
Macbeth 3 continues through June 20. The Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. at Open Stage Theater, 2835 Penn Ave., Strip District. 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org