Shakespeare’s taut, violent tale of political power gets staged by Tacoma Little Theatre

By Rev. Adam McKinney on June 8, 2018

Story-wise, Macbeth is about as straightforward as they come, especially as it concerns William Shakespeare's work; not only is it Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, but it follows a quite linear line of A to B to C, working with economic momentum toward its predestined path of death and destruction. Its themes are as universally relevant and recognizable now as they were when they were conceived in the 17th century: ruthless ambition and hunger for power lead to bloody ends, though even the most conniving among us are susceptible to the hauntings of regret.

Like most of Shakespeare's plays, Macbeth is destined to be constantly debated and reappraised, with some critics dinging the celebrated play for being a little too pat and sensationalistic. For me, I find its compact storytelling and relative lack of subtlety can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how the production treats the material -- if you're just in the business of thinking sword fights look awesome, and that evil exists in a vacuum, you may just be giving in to the play's worst instincts. At the heart of the story is the relationship between our title character and his cunning, avaricious wife. Get those two roles right, and you're more than halfway to a successful production of Macbeth.

Tacoma Little Theatre's production of Macbeth is a success, and it's largely due to the performances of Dylan Twiner (Macbeth) and Kathryn Philbrook (Lady Macbeth), who play their mutual zeal for the throne as a pastime of two ferocious lovers. Decorated war hero Macbeth has designs on becoming king of Scotland, and is bolstered by the Machiavellian schemes of Lady Macbeth, which involve killing King Duncan (Dennis Worrell) in his sleep, and framing the king's guards for the murder. While the assassination goes mostly according to plan, there are two flies in the ointment: the unexpected weight of guilt that is felt by the murderous Macbeths, and the eliminating those who may be suspicious of the wrongdoing, particularly Macbeth's friend Banquo (a fantastic Jessica Weaver).

Once the seeds are in place, Macbeth moves inexorably toward a violent end. All that's left is to tighten up every beat, via empathetic performances and formal ingenuity. In the latter's case, the play starts abruptly, without the usual pre-show speech from TLT artistic director Chris Serface, plunging us immediately into a spare stage that puts all of the onus on the dialogue and performances. And those performances - split between some new faces and South Sound ringers like Jacob Tice, Maddox Pratt, Rodman Bolek (in the ever-important role of the vengeful Macduff), and Ben Stahl - enrich and enliven the show.

Director Pug Bujeaud juggles the various accompanying plot strands and central conflict quite well, though I felt it might benefit Macbeth to take a breather every once in a while -- Bolek gets the one moment of quiet reflection in a show that barrels along. Bujeaud's statement in the program rings true though, that it's dismissive to call the Macbeths evil. To do so is to overestimate the character of mankind.

MACBETH, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm, through June 17, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, $20-$24, 253.272.2281,