Chicago Shakespeare Theater Presents MACBETH Review– More than a Magic Touch

Instant flicks of the switch flood the stage with morphing hues, often signaling that we are about to hear one of the soliloquy jewels in Shakespeare’s MACBETH. You may think you are getting inured to this Lighting Design magic by Thom Weaver, until the breathtaking bathe of Lady Macbeth (Chaon Cross) in the blood red of her hands and heart summons you to admire it anew.

For those of us expecting many magic touches akin to those we saw in THE TEMPEST at Chicago Shakespeare in an earlier production directed by Aaron Posner and co-director magician Teller, the big surprise is that the pure sleight of hand touches are relatively few. Rather, it’s the magic of theater in general —superlative acting coupled with overall excellence in stagecraft that makes this MACBETH such a standout.  With millisecond precision, acting and stagecraft combine into a continuous WOW!

Perhaps it is Kenny Wollesen (Musical Instruments of Darkness Design & Construction) whose percussive touch most guides us into the action like a steady pulse. It’s no wonder that the otherworldly Weird Sisters (witches McKinley Carter, Theo Germaine and Emily Ann Nichelson) come to perch by the drums when they aren’t stirring their cauldron or teasing Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes) with riddles about his fate. By this writer’s lights, their creepy costumes and makeup alone make this production recommended, even before their cauldron is enlivened with special magic effects equal to the highest production value Hollywood horror flick.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater MACBETH
Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes, right) and Lady Macbeth (Chaon Cross) ascend to power, observed by the Weird Sisters (McKinley Carter, Emily Ann Nichelson, and Theo Germaine) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Macbeth, adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, April 25–June 24, 2018. Photo by Liz Lauren

Trademark Chicago Shakespeare Theater Accessibility

Yes, a magical touch is obviously in the mix. But it is more the trademark way that Chicago Shakespeare Theater always makes Shakespeare’s scripts so accessible that charms and transports. With body language and voice inflections so perfect, we soon forget that Peakes is speaking in a vernacular of another time. His transformations from mere mortal cowed by witches, to madman, to bloodthirsty king feel as natural as can be. For lovers of those comic relief moments in Shakespeare’s tragedy scripts, know that Matthew Floyd Miller’s Porter performance does not disappoint.

If you get to Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s YARD theater space ahead of time it will likely help you marvel all the more at the performance that unfolds.

The hall seems cavernous at first, until sword fights bring it down to scale. It’s when Lady Macduff (Jennifer Latimore) somehow makes us feel on this supersized stage that we are in a small family sanctum that we realize again that THE magic is great acting and direction of which the Bard himself would well approve. When her husband Macduff (Timothy D. Stickney) reacts to her death by taking just a few steps aside and forward to reflect as a man before taking on a the avenger role (to paraphrase), we realize we are seeing acting giants make this Macbeth shine.

For those of us who remember Chicago Shakespeare’s origins in the back of a pub, it’s hard not to exclaim “You’ve come a long way baby!” as we take this pageant in.

Perhaps the only thing that is a tad lost in this grand hall-- —at least from balcony vantage point— is the feeling of sexual electricity between the Macbeths, a dynamic which had been so palpable in Theatre Y’s MACBETH in the wake of the 2016 election.

For Shakespeare junkies this production cannot be missed. Going forward, this writer will certainly walk more than the proverbial mile to see anything Ian Merrill Peakes is in.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.


Thru June 24.

Check Chicago Shakespeare Theater website for curtain times.


Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier - YARD Theater
800 East Grand


Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Chicago Shakespeare Theater website

Photos: Liz Lauren


Adam Wesley Brown Malcolm
McKinley Carter Weird Sister
Chaon Cross Lady Macbeth
Kyle Curry Donalbain
Christopher Donahue Duncan/Doctor
Theo Germaine Weird Sister
Jennifer Latimore Lady Macduff/Gentlewoman
Ronnie Malley Ensemble
Matthew Floyd Miller Porter/Siward
Austin Molinaro Fleance
Emily Ann Nichelson Weird Sister
Reilly Oh Seyton
Ian Merrill Peakes Macbeth
Sam Pearson Young Siward
Cage Sebastian Pierre Angus
Edgar Miguel Sanchez Lennox
Timothy D. Stickney Macduff
Samuel Taylor Ross
Bret Tuomi Bloody Sergeant
Andrew White Banquo
Micah Wilson Macduff Son
LiSean “Ling Ling” McElrath Ensemble
Alexander James Poe Ensemble
Dylan Obrochta Ensemble


Creative Team

Aaron Posner Adapter/Director
Teller Adapter/Director
Daniel Conway Scenic Designer
Mara Blumenfeld Costume Designer
Thom Weaver Lighting Designer
Johnny Thompson Magic Designer
Andre Pluess Sound Designer/Composer/Original Orchestrations
Richard Jarvie Wig and Make-up Designer
Susan Felder Verse Coach
Kenny Wollesen Instrument Designer/Wollesonics
Magdelene Spanuello Associate Director



Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago

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