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Something wicked this way comes – ‘Macbeth’

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Deb Elz-Hammond is Lady Macbeth and Barrett Hammond is Macbeth in Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of "Macbeth." Deb Elz-Hammond is Lady Macbeth and Barrett Hammond is Macbeth in Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of "Macbeth." (photo courtesy Ten Bucks Theatre Company/Andrea Littlefield)

Ten Bucks Theatre Company is once more bringing the Bard to area stages with their annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production.

This summer sees them tackle the tragedy of “Macbeth.” Directed by Ben Layman, the show is set to pop up at four different locales over the course of its run. Their opening weekend took place in Brewer’s Indian Trail Park July 19-22, while they’ll be doing a one-off at the Newport Riverwalk on July 25, the day this edition hits the streets. From there, they’ll be at the amphitheater stage at the Orono Public Library July 26-29 before closing their run with a weekend at Fort Knox in Bucksport, performing Aug. 2-5.

It’s a bold choice to tackle a tragedy, though in this case, at least it’s a relatively familiar one to audiences. The truth is that comedy tends to be the slightly easier animal to tame in typical Shakespeare Under the Stars conditions, but for the most part, Ten Bucks brings the show to life with the company’s typical zest and zeal – just with a little more blood.

For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Macbeth (Barrett Hammond) is an 11th-century thane of Scotland, a warrior of great skill and prowess. When he and his close friend Banquo (Liz Mills) are approached by three mysterious, magical women on the field of battle (Julie Arnold Lisnet; Alison Cox; Andrea Littlefield), they are offered a prophecy - a prophecy that predicts Macbeth will soon become the King of Scotland.

Driven by this sinister, supernatural edict, Macbeth and his wife (Deb Elz-Hammond) hatch a plot in which through bravado and bloodshed, Macbeth can ascend to the throne. His rise comes at the expense of not only King Duncan (David Lane), but of some of those closest to Macbeth as well.

There is resistance, springing most prominently from the warrior Macduff (Nathan Roach) and his tragedy-inspired rage, to Macbeth's rule - a rule marked by the new king's tendency toward guilt-driven self-destruction, a ruthlessness bordering on bloodthirst and a dark obsession with the witches' prophecies … prophecies that offer plenty of promises, including a few that Macbeth would rather not see kept.

Macbeth’s power and paranoia rise in equal measure; the walls may soon be closing in. He has risen to the throne, but at what cost? And what price may still be out there yet to be paid?

“Macbeth” isn’t an easy project to tackle. It may not be “Hamlet” or “Romeo & Juliet,” but it is very much in Shakespeare’s top tier. There’s a general familiarity with the story that you don’t get with some of the deeper cuts. That’s great for helping audiences remain engaged with the action, but it’s also a double-edge sword – familiarity can breed contempt, especially with a tale that a viewer has seen unfold before, whether it’s a traditional production or a looser adaptation or something simply inspired by the story.

Director Layman doesn’t reinvent the wheel here. He’s content to largely let the story speak for itself; there are a handful of adopted conceits that achieve both artistic and logistical ends, but mostly, we’re left at the mercy of Shakespeare’s words. And that’s OK – that’s how it should be. Too often, complicated concepts do nothing but ring gimmicky and false; better to treat the tale with simplicity and honesty. When it comes to the Bard, less is often more.

It doesn’t hurt that Layman has assembled a capable cast, one willing to dive into the Shakespearean deep end without question or fear. It’s that enthusiasm and general willingness that tends to mark a Ten Bucks ensemble; a positive energy unfailingly pulses through the group. This year’s bunch brings more of the same.

One of the interesting things about “Macbeth” is its reliance on a handful of core characters. That’s not to say other parts don’t matter; it’s just that this cast is a top-heavy one, relying on a few to do the majority of the heavy lifting.

There’s Macbeth, of course. Barrett Hammond gives the titular character a brusque brashness; he’s presented as a man whose words and actions are unwaveringly purposeful. Macbeth’s transition from loyalty to ambition happens quickly, but Hammond creates the space he needs to make it feel fluid. He’s a commanding presence. So too is Deb Elz-Hammond, his wife both on the stage and in real life. Too often, Lady Macbeth becomes a too-demanding figure, driven by one-note shrillness. In the steady hands of Elz-Hammond, she is instead a figure of measured manipulation. She is less strident and more subtle, making her journey far more engrossing to watch. The two of them together have an unsurprising comfort level; they seem to have almost weaponized their marital chemistry, honing it into something sharp and wonderfully discomfiting.

Liz Mills, the newcomer who plays Banquo, is a revelation. She brings a magnificent presence to the stage, an energy both buoyant and tinged with darkness. It’s a powerful performance. Nathan Roach offers his standard steady hand as Macduff while Aimee Gerow’s understated work as Lady Macduff makes the most of her limited stage time. Lisnet, Cox and Littlefield chew the scenery when they hag it up as the three witches; they’re fun to watch. Lane as Duncan and Bunny Barclay as Ross also bring good work to the table.

And of course, the rest of the ensemble – Natalie Lisnet, Deanna Rice, Matt Rice, Connor Plante, Melissa Egolf, Nathan Reeves, Reed Davis, Gillian Gaddis, Sue Amero, Noah Lovejoy, Minwin Fitzgerald, Axel Carlson, Elisabeth Carlson and Grace Carlson – does yeoman’s work as they create the rest of the world in which this story exists. Lisnet’s Lennox and Gaddis’s Porter are highlights, but really, it boils down to everyone doing their jobs to the best of their respective abilities.

All that said, there are a few issues here. The modular nature of the set – combined with the limitations of the Indian Trail Park location – means that there are moments where actors are not only moving in and out of the space, but are actually visible backstage for extended periods. Everyone is doing their best to go unnoticed, but there are occasional moments that distract. There were some volume issues; a few lines were swallowed up by the wind. And some of the stage combat beats didn’t come off quite as well as they might have.

Still, those issues are minor ones in the grand scheme of things. Overall, “Macbeth” is a solid Shakespearean offering and a lovely way to spend a summer evening. Ten Bucks Theatre Company continues their commitment to bringing the Bard to life in outdoor settings; they’re a vital component of the region’s cultural landscape.

So go see “Macbeth” tomorrow … and tomorrow … and tomorrow.

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