Strong performances and a light directorial touch make this Shakespearean tragedy worth a trip



City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/524-2870
Through Nov. 3

Something wicked this way comes, and indeed, 'tis the season for boiling cauldrons. The familiar scene of the mini-coven that opens the Scottish play is given a fresh spin in the latest from City Theatre. The three witches, typically played as curmudgeonly septuagenarians covered in warts, are instead tricked out as twentysomething hotties in torn stockings and copious amounts of eyeliner. For a moment, one wonders if they haven't taken a wrong turn somewhere and stumbled in from the ACL Music Festival after too much Left Hand Milk Stout.

But alas, Shakespeare's unmistakable words come whistling out of their well-lubricated mouths, though some of them – as when the First Witch purrs, "I'll drain him dry as hay" – take on an entirely new meaning. In fact, these witches seem almost on loan from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: a trio of wanton temptresses, at turns gape-mouthed and serpentine – a goth-themed Lust Collective. My companion for the night (who is 15, and male) does not complain. The truth is, these alluring mystics – and the stunning Cara Juan in particular – provide the viewer with one of the evening's most memorable visuals and are a fine introduction to an otherwise straight portrayal of the Bard's tragedy of ambition gone awry.

The director, Kevin Gates, has a light touch here and is clearly not a member of Team Branagh – famously bent on leveraging the power of spectacle to lull us into a sea of calm as we make that first important leap into the foreign territory of the Shakespearean vernacular. Nope. You're mostly on your own here, without the help of panacean pyrotechnics. As in an Eighties-era U2 concert, simplicity reigns.

The costuming is, in large part, appropriately funereal and dominated by blacks and grays with a bit of the ultraviolet. Still, although the characters' clothing shares a color palette, the periods and styles represented are a bit of a mash-up. From Banquo's Australian Outback Chic to Malcolm's Yalie Plaid, one wonders if this postmodern approach is effective in capturing the disparate essences of character without asking the audience to work too hard.

Doubtless one of the biggest surprises of the night is the standout performance by child actor Hallie Strange, who is an utter delight as the forthright progeny of Macduff. Strange's obvious comfort with the text is a testament to the quality of work being done with youth in Shakespeare programs at her alma mater, the EmilyAnn Theatre in Wimberley.

Although music is almost entirely absent during the show proper, Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave" proves a fitting way to close the night, with a nod to the grisly infanticide from Act Two. In sum, the performances here are certainly strong enough to warrant the trip down far east Manor, but one would do well to brush up on the play beforehand if it's been awhile.

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Macbeth, Austin theatre, City Theatre, Kevin Gates, Cara Juan, Hallie Strange

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