Angela Janas as Lady Macbeth and Gabriel Lawrence as Macbeth in The Acting Company production of Macbeth at the Pearl Theatre.
Angela Janas as Lady Macbeth and Gabriel Lawrence as Macbeth in the Acting Company production of Macbeth at the Pearl Theatre.
(© Heidi Bohnenkamp)

Shakespeare's plays have stood the test of time because they allow directors to make bold flourishes. Macbeth, in particular, allows a significant amount of possibility, given its uniqueness in the Shakespeare canon. The play features realistic and supernatural characters, a plot that's simultaneously earthbound and spiritual, and questions regarding the age-old concept of fate versus free will.

This infamous Scottish tragedy has returned to New York once again, in the hands of Devin Brain and the Acting Company, and runs in repertory with Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court at The Pearl Theatre. It's a simple production designed for touring, with a single set, a cast of 10, and only a few base costumes and lighting cues. But it's the directorial choices that stand out and distinguish it from several other productions seen in recent years. This version makes its intentions clear, despite the possibility for audiences to wildly disagree with the interpretation.

At the forefront is the idea that Macbeth (Gabriel Lawrence), the titular Scottish soldier, puts his life in the hands of fate, rather than climbing up the social ladder. As soon as the Weird Sister (here only one, played by the appropriately chilling Suzy Kohane) delivers her prophecy — that Macbeth will eventually become "King hereafter" — he lets her guide his actions like puppeteer manipulating a marionette, rather than being destroyed by ambition.

Lawrence expertly charts this terrain, transforming himself from tall, regal soldier at the start to sniveling coward by the end, out of control and powerless to stop. Less interesting is Angela Janas as Lady Macbeth, an ineffectual presence who unfortunately delivers her sensational soliloquies without much ferocity. Of the remaining cast members, only Ian Gould really sticks out, doubling as a haughty King Duncan and, hilariously, as the drunken Porter.

Brain's staging is dark and menacing, a tone that his creative team follows scrupulously. The audience enters and hears the pounding of a heartbeat, courtesy of sound designers Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes. Costumer Valérie Thérèse Bart provides several variations on cloaks that creepily obscure faces. Michael Chybowski's lighting shifts in color as the play progresses, adding color to Neil Patel's unobtrusively gray set.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the production comes at the very end, with the sudden repetition of several lines from early in the play, an added touch that underscores the emphasis of fate over free will. If only more revivals of Shakespeare could learn to be as daring as this.