“Unsex me here,” says Lady Macbeth, famously. At the beginning of Shakespeare’s study of the ultimate power couple, she seems to have more testosterone than her warrior husband, who’s growing increasingly susceptible to the prophesies of strange femme pundits. With its mentions of gender limitations, a sisterhood of witches and Shakespeare’s most dynamic marriage, “Macbeth” is a promising candidate for a gender-based re-imagining. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project, a 4-year-old Beantown theater ensemble best known for its stellar “King Lear” with Alvin Epstein, presents an all-female version of the play, but the result is a mixed brew.
The problem here is not in the casting conceit but in the less-than-clear-and-compelling interpretation and wavering, uneven execution. Other than an intriguing moment or two (the double casting of an actress as both Macduff and Lady Macduff), the production fails to claim one for the distaff side.
It’s not clear what Susan Zeeman Rogers’ mess of an environmental set — including laundry lines, cooking utensils, a kitchen table — is supposed to represent. With audience members on risers on both sides of the playing area, there’s little sense of place, theme or dramatic efficiency in this weird cosmos.
Nor does Adrianne Krstansky’s helming give the production a singular and sustained focus to expands on the conceit of a world filled with power-hungry women. Though the violence is subdued and representational, this study of ambition is not particularly enlightening (despite the many uses of light and darkness throughout the production).
Both lead perfs and several supporting ones give the production some vitality. In this “Macbeth,” the pleasures come from actors with a comfortable grasp of the text and a command of the language.
Paula Plum makes a fine Lady M. with her vaulting ambition, forceful fits and aching descent into madness. Marya Lowery in the title role, like many in the cast, tends to expend much of her energy playing masculine instead of exploring the character’s other shadings. Interestingly, any sexual dynamic between this heated couple is absent. But Lowery has a powerful presence and, when she is speaking, she owns the stage.
Bobbie Steinbach is also a standout, doubling as Duncan and as the most mesmerizing of the trio of witches.