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When: Sundays, 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sat., Sept. 11, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 12 2010
Price: $34-$70, with various discounts

A set that resembles an old war hospital -- cracked windows, bloody gurneys, Wyrd Sisters in nurse uniforms, medicine cabinets with cotton swabs and tongue depressors -- doubles as a witch's coven in Cal Shakes' new, inventive rendition of Macbeth. Avoiding the temptation to over-contemporize the seventeenth-century Elizabethan tragedy, director Joel Sass played up the war theme, but not at the expense of script or story. Jud Williford plays a rather boyish, bewildered Macbeth against Stacy Ross' snarly Lady Macbeth. The two establish their relationship dynamic straight off, when Macbeth returns from a long war and awkwardly greets his wife, who waits several minutes before pouncing on him. The cast is superb, with many actors doing double-duty (veteran James Carpenter handles five minor roles), but ambience is the real star. From Daniel Ostling's dingy set design and Russell Champa's fantastic light show to Andre Pluess' hardboiled electronic soundscapes, the entire play becomes an extension of Macbeth's psychology. Go at night; it's chilling. Through September 12 at Bruns Amphitheater (100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda) $34-$70.

— Rachel Swan


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