Known by most actors as "the Scottish play" (superstition prevents them from saying the title aloud inside the theater), Shakespeare's Macbeth is one of the writer's grittiest accomplishments. It's a beautiful script, but when you get past the intricate phrasing and meticulous rhythm, it all comes down to one thing: A couple's sick desire for power leaves everyone around them dead. Included in the murdered lot are several children -- a curious detail, seeing as the Macbeths have none of their own.
The Cutting Ball Theater's new production explores the pair's childlessness by playing up the often-dismissed fact that they likely just lost a baby. The first time we see Lady Macbeth, for example, she's alone in an empty nursery with a bassinet and abandoned dolls. Also, the dialogue of the three witches on whom Macbeth relies for details about his future is interpreted here as fragments of his mourning wife's conscience, even though the witches themselves are mirror images of him. "He's hearing his wife's voices," says director Rob Melrose in a recent phone chat, "but he's seeing himself." Another thing Melrose's version gets into is the relationship of the power-hungry couple, which, despite their actions, is rooted in a strong and loving partnership. "As heinous as they are as murderers," Melrose says, "it's probably the most successful marriage in Shakespeare." Cutting Ball's Macbeth continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through June 11 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 419-3584 or visit www.cuttingball.com.
-- Karen Macklin
Zoë Keating's avant-garde cello playing sounds nothing like your high school orchestra -- which isn't surprising, considering that she practiced in a psychiatric hospital as a budding prodigy. Though the string instrumentalist is perhaps best known as one of the corset-bound gals from Rasputina, progenitors of gothic chamber pop, she also writes her own music. Tonight Keating performs compositions from her latest project, One Cello x 16 , a series of pieces involving live loops of her instrument's emanations, which creates a surreal soundscape. Rasputina and Hazard County Girls also play at 8 at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $15; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com.
-- Jane Tunks
East Meets West
Growing up is hard enough without being confined by a tradition-bound society. Born on the island of Bali, dancer Kompiang Metri-Davies' journey to independence included such roles as tomboy, wife-to-be, and immigrant. This weekend, Metri-Davies and four accompanying dancers perform the autobiographical piece Liku-Liku Hidupku: The Story of My Life, which updates the established choreographic styles of Metri-Davies' homeland with modern-day theatrical touches from the West; performances are at 8 p.m. both days at the SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is $5-15; call 864-4126 or visit www.apiculturalcenter.org.
-- Jane Tunks
A Pretty, Good Show
What the Xeno performance collective delivers is heavy on the eye candy, so just as some people starve themselves before a big dinner, you might want to look at a bunch of ugly shit all day before A Handful of Dust. Fire dancing, choreographed aerial work, fluorescent mohawks, dramatic lighting and makeup -- these are Xeno hallmarks, and the current production delivers all of it and more. Handful, which the crew's Web site describes as "a poetic look at a spirit's basic training," runs at 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the month at the Xenodrome, 1320 Potrero (at 25th Street), S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 285-9366 or visit www.xenodrome.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser