"Macbeth" purists, brace yourselves: Don't expect eye of newt or toe of frog.
Greg Taber, director of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival season opener, is unapologetically offering a "distillation," not an adaptation, of the famed play. He's stripped "Macbeth" down by removing much of the political and historical material. Some characters are missing, and monologues have been rearranged. Gone, too, is the stage pageantry often associated with the play — including the famed "double, double, boil and trouble" scene involving a bubbling cauldron.
The three witches still make the cut, however, as part of Taber's concept of focusing tightly on the central conflict between good and evil.
"There are a lot of stories going on in 'Macbeth,' most of them that I don't consider resonate with a modern audience," says Taber, who also plays the title role. "What I've tried to do is distill it down to one single story, which is the story of a group of people that are preyed upon by this outside force, the witches. It's an effort to get the most powerful story out of this."
Taber has experimented with "distilling" Shakespeare before. In 2007, his Theatre Ventoux company in Fresno presented "This Flattering Glass," which cut the political and historical storylines from "Richard II" to focus on the warring families.
"I want to tell a story that's going to have an impact on a current audience without having to give them 14 pages of background information on what's going on," he says.
For the cast, it's a chance to offer "Macbeth" in a new way.
Kate McKnight, who plays Lady Macbeth, was intrigued with Taber's creative concept from the start.
"One of the first things he told the cast is that this play is about good people who become infected by evil," she says. "He wants the audience to go away disturbed and excited by what they've seen, and it's OK to unnerve them. We all like that idea quite a bit."
"Macbeth," 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through July 12 (no show on July 4) at Woodward Shakespeare Festival Stage in Woodward Park. Free, but $10 reserved seats available; park's car-entrance fee applies. woodwardshakespeare.org, (559) 927-3485.