Director Jason Slavick once again displays his thoughtful approach to text with his Boston Theatre Works production of ``Macbeth.'' Last season, Slavick found the heart and the heat behind Emily Mann's complex ``Meshugah,'' and he does much the same with ``Macbeth,'' with a few false moves.
Shakespeare's bloody play of ambition and betrayal has often tripped up directors who can't get beyond the dirty deeds to the characters' muddy motives. But Slavick cleverly brings the three weird sisters to the forefront, making all the action of the play directly related to their witches brew and cauldron's bubble.
As the three weird sisters, Laura Napoli, Elizabeth Hayes and Erin Bell always linger on the edges of J. Michael Griggs' sleek, white cavelike set. They follow the action, using a variety of percussion instruments to provide an insistent background beat to the proceedings. Although it does, on occasion, distract from the words, it sets the appropriate emotional tone. The witches also play various cameo roles, and their transformation back into witches with their last lines adds a sly bit of humor and strong sense of manipulation to the play.
The witches also stand behind Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself when they are each in the throes of screwing their courage to the sticking place. The haunting whispers of the witches, combined with their insistent drumbeats, push both Macbeths past their fears.
Slavick's use of the witches sets a swift pace for the action, but they also serve as a link between some scenes that can be awkward. (Malcolm's scene, in which he does a turnaround from denying his interest in the throne to accepting his responsibilities, is a complete disaster, however.)
The uneven talents of the 10-member ensemble also create some problems. Although most of the company effectively morphs from one character to another, some of the less experienced actors race through Shakespeare's blank verse, turning it into nonsense.
As Macbeth, Shawn Galloway has a wonderfully bold look and piercing eyes, but he often seems to be dancing around his character. He spends too much energy overemoting rather than getting inside this fascinating man who is torn by his loyalty for his king and his loyalty to his wife.
Anne Gottlieb, however, as Lady Macbeth, offers compelling reasons for her husband to follow her lead. She is fearful and then fervent, fierce and then frantic. When she finally disintegrates in the sleepwalking scene, we understand that once she has lost her focus - Macbeth - it's impossible for her to hold her world together. Her look of longing when Macbeth dismisses her is devastating.
Another standout is Lisa Anne Porter, who plays Banquo with rough sympathy. While Porter occasionally slips up on the masculine nature of her role, we rarely doubt she is Macbeth's trusted friend.
Although the uneven quality of the performances - and some unfortunate wrestling with costumes - detracted from this ``Macbeth,'' Slavick's consistent approach proves he is a director to watch.