A Crown? Or a Tiara?

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Years ago, during a workshop production of MacBeth, a wonderful producer leaned over and whispered to me, "You know, MacBeth has a plot like a brick outhouse!"

(Her language was slightly saltier than that but you get the idea.)

It's true. As Shakespeare's shortest play, it announces its journey almost immediately. The three witches appear, pronounce their prophesy that MacBeth will be thane of Cawdor and King, and we're off to the races. It's this brevity and clarity that makes MacBeth so amenable to experimentation. As a result, there are as many adaptations as there are taco trucks in LA. And like taco trucks, the trick is discovering the really good ones.

When I walked into the lobby of Zombie Joe's Underground – yes, that's the name of the theater, and yes, there is a Zombie Joe - when I saw a Velvet Elvis on the wall and heard the Ramones in the background - I knew I'd stumbled into something special.

Zombie Joe and director Josh T. Ryan's take on MacBeth is called The Blood of MacBeth and the theater itself is the size of a shoebox. The only set piece: a red lacquer box.

As the play begins, a woman in a bustier and a Guy Fawkes anonymous mask pops out of an upstage window and begins intoning something about "Sector Seven in the Valley" and then there are bits of Shakespeare and then . . . suddenly blackout - and we're in some very disturbing mental ward with the King and the male characters of MacBeth. They are all in hospital scrubs and they've got a concentration camp number, the same one, tattooed on their arms. One's wearing a protective helmet and clutching a beach ball like he's not the brightest bulb in the box.

Blackout - and the witches appear. Not three but seven and they look like they've stumbled out of a very naughty burlesque show - corsets, fishnets, a gold lamé bikini. They're writhing over one another and it's seductive and scary at the same time.

Fast forward to MacBeth's coronation. MacBeth is wearing a white, ankle length nightgown. To one side a crown. To the other a diamond tiara. In the background, Antony and Johnson's croon "One day I'll grow up and be a beautiful woman..." MacBeth...chooses the tiara.

In one sense, I have no idea what's going on but frankly I don't care because I'm enjoying the ride.

Director Josh T. Ryan crafts this world with bold visual images, a direct presentational style, and he teases more magic out of blackouts and five clip lights than I've seen in a long time. It doesn't hurt that the cast brings a stunning physical and vocal commitment to the play.

So if you're looking for a traditional MacBeth look elsewhere. If you want a 50-minute darkly sexual, inappropriately funny, thrill ride...don't miss this one.

The Blood of MacBeth plays through August 19 at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 50 minutes without intermission

Photo by Zombie Joe