It's the production elements in the We Players' elongated, walk-through “Macbeth” at San Francisco's Fort Point, rather than Shakespeare's story or language, that capture the imagination and do so quite beautifully.
In fact, director (with John Hadden) and company founder Ava Roy's site-specific concept is in some ways downright thrilling.
In two groups, patrons of the show enter the magnificent courtyard of the Civil War-era fortress under the Golden Gate Bridge and follow their designated captain — who also appears in the play — over the course of the next three hours, up and down steep stone staircases, through dark hallways and vestibules, and into small rooms.
Both groups see every scene of the play, although not necessarily simultaneously and therefore not necessarily in the order as written.
Scenes set in the windy courtyard include the incantations of the weyard sisters, some fight scenes, the comical porter scene (watched from the tiers above) and more.
The banquet scene — in which murderously ambitious Macbeth, newly crowned king of Scotland, sees the ghost of Banquo — is set at a long table (at which audience members are guests) in a dark corridor.
The final battle between Macbeth and Macduff is staged quite effectively on the fortress rooftop, witnessed by viewers from afar.
In nooks and crannies, characters creep, lurk and engage in mysterious activities and rituals. And early on, after Macbeth has killed the king in his bed, audience members glimpse the bedroom itself as they are hustled along (excellent set and props by Rachel Bergquist).
The action is enhanced not only by a brass, woodwinds and percussion trio playing an original score by Charlie Gurke, but also by the thunder of cars on the bridge above and the slap of ocean waves.
Julia Rose Meeks' Civil War-era costumes, some with wooly, animal-skin capes, suit the venue, and even the Scottish tragedy, quite well.
But momentum, continuity and urgency suffer as the audience traipses from scene to scene. In addition, the fortress' acoustics obscure much of the dialogue. Many of the most dramatic and climactic scenes fail to register fully.
The large cast is uneven; some of the actors mangle the poetry and inherent meaning of the text. Even the witches' scenes seem more hokey and labored than chilling. The best performances are by director Roy as a Lady Macbeth of dark and wild urges, and the dynamic James Udom as Malcolme, a role too small for his considerable Shakespearean talents.
Presented by the We Players
Where: Fort Point, end of Marine Drive under Golden Gate Bridge, S.F.
When: 6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; closes Oct. 6
Tickets: $45 to $60
Contact: (415) 547-0189, weplayers.org