Theatre Review: MACBETH (adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller at Chicago Shakespeare)

by Lawrence Bommer on May 4, 2018

in Theater-Chicago

Post image for Theatre Review: MACBETH (adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller at Chicago Shakespeare)

A LOT OF BLOOD WILL OUT

Blood will have blood. It also sells tickets. And the theater’s thirstiest sanguinary spectacle remains the unspeakable Scottish tragedy. The darkest doings the Bard could imagine infest Macbeth — regicide, betrayal, the slaughter of innocents. Restraint is lost on his tale of sound and fury. But, unlike life, it does not signify nothing. Yes, a killer couple “disrupt” Scotland with serial butchery, but restoring the realm feels redemptive. After so much carnage, the last moments seem a blessing that’s not in disguise.

Creators of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s 2015 hit The Tempest, collaborators Aaron Posner (Life Sucks, Stupid Fucking Bird) and Teller (of the Penn and Teller magic duo) are at it again. Their dual adaptation and staging (previously produced at D.C.’s Folger Theatre and New Jersey’s Two River Theater Company) gives a 412-year-old play a new baptism in blood.

There’s Teller-telling magic in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s modern melodrama, but, suiting the script, it never distracts: Chaon Cross’s magnificent Lady Macbeth almost drowns in blood during her mad scene. The ghost of Banquo (Andrew White) disappears down a trap door (though not that cleanly on opening night). The dagger that is reached for by Ian Merrill Peakes’s superlative Macbeth comes and goes in its own video vanishing act.

Weirder than ever, the trio of witch siblings (McKinley Carter, Theo Germaine and Emily Ann Nichelson) all but shift shapes as they preside over the mayhem: They disappear into their cloaks, recalling the Wicked Witch of the West’s watery demise, and pull beheaded specters out of a very small chest. Andre Pluess’s creepy score and scary sound effects often convey more horror than the acting.

Special effects aside, Macbeth comes down to the evolution of evil. Vaulting ambition preys on supernatural sanctions as the former Thane of Glamis and his equally sociopathic lady carve their way to the throne. Then they get to keep killing to preserve the usurpation. Posner and Tell say it with stage pictures fraught with bursting blood bags, sword banging, swirling pseudo-medieval garments, a very carnivorous cauldron, gauntly cadaverous weird sisters, a hideous Hecate (Ronnie Malley), and costumer Mara Blumenfeld’s killer kilts.

At the (lack of) heart of this bloodbath is Peakes’s declamatory Macbeth, a terror tyro whose sole courage only comes at the end, when he defies the prophecies that had previously propelled him. Ms. Cross’s more complex Lady Macbeth is as unhinged by murder mania as by her killer’s remorse, enough to trigger a bunker-style suicide. Fearful and tearful, they generate genuine revulsion in onlookers, on stage and in front.

Dramatically, its all down hill from the M team. (Shakespeare’s best lines go to the worst folks.) Christopher Donahue’s milquetoast Duncan all but auditions to becomes a human sacrifice. In an inescapably forgettable second-act scene, the dithering good guys Malcolm and Donalbain (Adam Wesley Brown, Kyle Currey) tediously agonize over whether anyone is good enough to be king. But there’s genuine loss in Timothy D. Stickney’s Macduff, victim of a mass execution that will plunge him into madness or revenge. As his doomed family, Jennifer Latimore, Phoenix Anderson, and Micah Wilson incarnate defenseless casualties.

Happily uncluttered by any complicating concept, Navy Pier’s Scottish tragedy is boilerplate, mail-order Macbeth, vintage havoc and contagious bedlam. Peculiarly pictorial (great tableaux here), the performances are never less than solid and supportive. The rhetoric may not soar as far as the props drop but the devil’s in the designs: Posner and Tell refuse to domesticate or diminish the unprocessed pain that Shakespeare left naked and ashamed.

photos by Liz Lauren

Macbeth
Chicago Shakespeare at The Yard on Navy Pier
ends on June 24, 2018
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit Chicago Shakes

for more shows, visit Theater in Chicago

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