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There's Husbandry In Heaven; Their Candles Are All Out

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Foul whisperings are abroad: unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:
More needs she the divine than the physician.

And more needs we Shakespeare than either one. Macbeth is a play of sudden, constant, bloody action. The variation comes from watching the actors react, as they each realize - yes, it is that bad, and yes, it's going to get much worse. Josh Costello's sparse production of Macbeth is currently playing through Dec. 18 at the Met Theatre. He has ostensibly moved the Scot's timeline forward, but modernized, in this case, doesn't mean mutilated, and the rich, bloody language is the Dog Star of this production.

Although we still can't get behind Costello's decision to have the three Weird Sisters cavorting with a giant plastic syringe, we liked this production very much. On a dirty, jagged postage-stamp of a stage, no more than twelve feet square, a strong ensemble cast steps forward, says their lines of unspeakable terror and beauty, and then steps down to the side. They never leave the room. They change their costumes there, at the edge of the stage, and we see them watching, either as courtiers, witches, or corpses.

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Robert Tobin's Macbeth is young, hot, and bothered. He likes his monologues fierce and anxiously quick (this entire play somehow sneaks in at under 2:15 with a ten-minute intermission), and remains entirely dependent on his Queen, a vivacious, becorseted Julie Ann Hassett. Tobin makes Macbeth seem like a really nice guy who just cracks under the pressure of the murders, and his greater madness, when it does come, is a shocking contrast to the sweet-faced first act.

Hassett, unfortunately (and this is Shakespeare's fault) doesn't get enough time on stage, but she shines in the great scene where Banquo's ghost comes and sits at the dinner table with Macbeth and fellow lords. She channels some kind of Beverly Hills madwoman-housewife, trying to make the guests stay at the table while her husband goes mad and draws a dagger at an empty chair. Redon Ramsey as Banquo is understated in life and devastating in death, and Michael Hovance (is that Adrien Brody I see before me?) makes Malcolm a much more interesting part than we'd ever considered it to be. His frustration at exile comes off as being stunned into grief.

The actors and the play move quickly (some to the point of rushing their lines) and they step on and step down like a spinning lazy Susan. In general, the designers have supplied just enough detail to clothe this naked rush towards catastrophe, especially Bo Crowell on set, who has held back to the point of only allowing himself crates and barrels. It pays off. But where, oh where, is the sound designer? We think that a little textural sound and, God forbid, music or wind rustling, would have done wonders towards letting Tobin slow down a bit.

The designers who are present are accounted for admirably. Steve Whitaker's lighting design is gloomy and minimalist. Christopher Morrison's fight choreography gives the final act a nice kick in the pants. (Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane with the clash of masculine wooden staves.) Dawn Worrall's costumes (like so many costumes in 99-seat theater) have to supply all the details that the set does not, and they do it well, except for a lamentable silver band that the two Kings of Scotland share as a crown. It just looks like a video-game prop. Apart from that, her ragged, torn, and sexy cast members are decked out for battle well - attractive, without being cute, and somehow straddling a post-war world and an ancient past.

At only $12, Macbeth is the best bargain performance in town. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 at the Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave. in Hollywood, downstairs in the Great Scott Theatre. Free parking available 1/2 block east on Santa Monica at Earl Scheib's. For reservations, call (323) 957-1152. This production is being untimely ripp'd from us on the 18th of December, so get it while you can.