There’s one more weekend to catch a terrific tandem production presented by ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT to open its 15th season, a theater double feature: MACBETH and EQUIVOCATION. The first is the bard’s blackest tragedy, so violent, pitiless and bleak, its name cannot be uttered in a theater without tempting wicked fate. This production of “the Scottish play” stars a hairless and high strung Nael Nacer as the skittish Scottish Thane of Cordor, prodded by his vicious, ambitious wife played by an unconvincing Paige Clark, who, after hacking her way to the top, cannot remove that damn spot.
The supporting cast fares better, especially Ed Hoopman, a powerful Macduff, and Maurice Parent as the soon to be ghosted Banquo. The setting, the darkly-wooded United Parish Church in Brookline, provides an eery gravitas the play demands, and the space is well-used, the actors in and out among the pews, aisles, and altar. Terrific sound design accentuates the dramatic staging, all orchestrated by Dawn M. Simmons by way of a world premiere translation by Migdalia Cruz; she has stripped out the inaccessible and obsolete, retained the poetry and pumped up the urgency of the original text.
Simultaneously in repertoire is EQUIVOCATION– which jolts this ensemble into even higher gear. Smart, swift, funny and enlightening, Bill Cain’s EQUIVOCATION is exponentially meta, a play within a play within a play that finds Shakespeare in 1605 London trying to satisfy the King’s commission to write a play– with witches– telling the truth about Guy Fawkes’ plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament. (The United Kingdom commemorates the foiling of the plot every November 5 on “Bonfire Night”!)
Here’s where it gets thrillingly complicated. Shakespeare wrestles with truth vs. propaganda, an acting ensemble looking for the truth in their parts, the truth of history, religion, and a royal coverup which may have inspired a theatrical tragedy of Scottish proportions: “Politics and Pornography! It’ll run forever.”
EQUIVOCATION is a brilliant play for all seasons, but especially this season, the nigh on two-year political winter of our discontent. The cast, directed with agility and wit by Christopher Edwards, is alive and cracking, especially Steven Barkhimer as the conflicted playwright Shag, Kimberley Gaughan as Judith a young woman with much to say but is little heard, and Nael Nacer as an equivocating cleric, the Jesuit Henry Garnet who couldn’t save his own neck but offers a path to truth in difficult times. See MACBETH and/or EQUIVOCATION through this weekend only!