The lights start to come down, and Cage Sebastian Pierre comes on stage. He plays Ross in the production, but for now, he is simply an actor addressing the audience full of students. He introduces himself, and explains that we are about to see an abridged version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He asks that we turn off our phones, and let go of the concerns of the outside world for just a little while. For those who are nervous they might not understand all of the language, Pierre assures them it will be alright:
“Stay with us, and I promise it will all make sense in the context of the story.”
Immediately the boundaries are broken, and the audience of young people are invited to join the ensemble along for the ride of this production. There is an understanding that this might be a different experience for folks, and that is okay. All the actors ask is that we lean in and do the best we can. It is a short speech, but Pierre, full of humor and kindness, creates the perfect introduction for that which we are about to experience.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents 2019 Short Shakespeare! Macbeth
Written by William Shakespeare and adapted by Director Marti Lyons, the famous tragedy follows Macbeth (Amir Abdullah, a commanding presence in the role), a war hero who learns of the Weyard Sisters’ prophecy that he will become King of Scotland. He and Lady Macbeth (Tiffany Scott, with impressive strength) decide to take fate into their own hands and murder King Duncan (Kevin Theis) to make the prophecy a reality. However, as one might expect, things certainly do not go as they might hope, and quite a lot of blood drops due to this couple’s ambition. Full of witchcraft, swordfights, and deceit, Macbeth offers both a perfect introduction to Shakespeare’s tragedies, and a fun afternoon of theater for those who are long-time fans of the Bard (like this writer).
Stunningly Crafted for a High School Audience
With Lyons at the helm, Chicago Shakespeare’s production offers multiple avenues of accessibility for a young audience – starting with the opening sequence. At the beginning, the audience is introduced to Macbeth as he wins his final battle against the Norwegians, becoming a war hero worthy of the new title “Thane of Cawdor.” In the midst of that, the audience meets the Weyard Sisters (Caroline Chu, Emma Ladji, and Caitlan Taylor in perfect harmony in each appearance), or the witches, who are about to announce the prophecy that changes Macbeth’s life forever.
Lyons and Choreographer Erin Kilmurray collaborate to make this sequence a truly theatrical event, complete with Sound Designer Mikhail Fiksel’s more modern score in the background. As we see Macbeth and his army fight, the witches dance in the midst – only “visible” to the audience. They weave in and out of the soldiers, signaling that their magical influence has already begun. Lyons interweaves the sisters into the story throughout the play, and immediately sets up this vocabulary at the very beginning with an intensely theatrical event. Looking around at the audience of young people surrounding me, they were clearly entranced, and this writer was not the only one to find this opening exciting to watch unfold.
Lyons had no small task of adapting Macbeth into a shortened, 75-minute production for the Short Shakespeare season. However, this production is perhaps the clearest performance of Macbeth that this writer has seen, complete with double casting and design choices that further clarify and enhance the storytelling.
With little time for backstory, Costume Designer Mieka Van Der Ploeg utilizes specific colors to signify those who are members of the same family. For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth showcase stunning yellow and navy-blue ensembles, which helps us in the audience immediately place the two together as a unit. Banquo (Eric Parks) and his son Fleance (Ninos Baba) sport black and green, which is especially helpful in terms of clarity because Baba is also double casted as Prince Malcom, son of King Duncan.
Lyon’s double casting does not end there, and becomes even more creative. Each of the Weyard Sisters appears as a servant or guest at one point for one of the major houses. While the actor plays a different role each time, she keeps the face makeup of a witch in the costume change, creating that subtle connection that the sisters are always present.
One of the most striking examples of this double casting takes place during the famous banquet scene in which Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. As those who are familiar with the story might know, Macbeth has a hand in Banquo’s death, and we see a haunted physicalizing of his guilt. At first, each of the Weyard Sister actors seems to appear as a guest at the banquet, but with a sudden change in lighting, they swap roles and become the witches, maintaining their hold on Macbeth when he is the only one to witness both Banquo’s ghost and their presence in the room. Then with a sudden transition back in lighting, all returns to normal – the ghost is nowhere to be found, and the witches become typical guests at the party. Through this choice, Lyons heightens the magical tension in the scene, creating a frightening window into Macbeth’s slow decline.
Full of magic and deceit, Short Shakespeare! MACBETH is, in this writer’s opinion, a 75-minute event of non-stop theatrical excitement for students and adults alike.
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.
Amir Abdullah... Macbeth
Ninos Baba... Malcolm/Fleance
Caroline Chu... Weyard Sister
Yao Dogbe... Macduff
Ty Fanning... Lennox
Emma Ladji... Weyard Sister
Eric Parks... Banquo/Seyton
Cage Sebastian... Pierre Ross
Sadieh Rifai... Porter/Murderer
Tiffany Scott... Lady Macbeth
Leslie Ann Sheppard... Lady Macduff/Doctor
Caitlan Taylor... Weyard Sister
Kevin Theis... Duncan/Murderer/Siward
Marti Lyons... Adapter/Director
Scott Davis... Scenic Designer
Mieka van der Ploeg... Costume Designer
Paul Toben... Lighting Designer
Mikhail Fiksel... Sound Designer
Richard Jarvie... Hair and Make-up Designer
Matt Hawkins... Fight Choreographer
Erin Kilmurray... Choreographer
Larry Yando... Verse Coach
Running through March 16, 2019
Saturdays at 11:00am
Running time: 75 minutes, without intermission
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.