An unsettling spirit looms over this mounting of the Scottish play—and I’m not talking about the ghosts of the many people Macbeth murders on his preordained way to the throne. Epic Theatre Ensemble’s streamlined interpretation of the Bard’s tragedy opens with a digital photo montage of Macbeth (Ty Jones) and his wife (Melissa Friedman) mourning the death of their young child, a conceit further hammered home by the massive mural of the formerly happy family. The theory that the spouses were once parents is not new (after all, Lady Macbeth says she has “suckled a baby”), but making their loss such a centerpiece is. While it’s an intriguing notion that reframes their motives, it adds an ambiguity to the action that undermines the play’s potency.
Obie-winner Jones, a Shakespeare vet who previously played a memorable Macbeth at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, is commanding and comfortable with the language. In fact there are many fine performances, notably Friedman as his fiery wife and the three Witches (Aimé Donna Kelly, Julian Rozzell Jr. and James Wallert), who, instead of being the personification of evil, are portrayed as time-card-punching workers. Even lauded Tony winner Richard Easton shows up as a doddering Duncan—albeit via video. But as engaging as this production is, Ron Russell’s flawed vision cannot be conquered. Is this really Macbeth that I see before me? It’s hard to tell.—Raven Snook