Boomers, millennials, all—this is not your mother’s Macbeth.
In the 19th Century, France gave the world de Tocqueville to explain the uniquely American spirit. Now, with Theatre Y as his tour guide companions, French Actor and Director Georges Bigot explains America to Americans in this year-in-the-making rendition of Shakespeare’s MACBETH.
This expositon on the American soul starts in the very opening scene when we meet the three witches (Kevlyn Hayes, Melissa Lorraine, and Laurie Roberts) frolicking to American rock n’roll (Little Darlin' by The Diamonds). With bare midriffs adorned with blood-red biological symbols for female, a “nasty” scribbled on one torso and another with a super swollen pregnant belly, these comely witches figuratively exude “blood from their wherevers” with every gyration. Whereas Shakespeare gives these witches the job of delivering portents of the drama to come, Bigot’s direction overlays with a timely question, “Too much estrogen for ya?”
Subtitled “Fear in the Night”
And so it continues throughout the production. It gets downright eerie when a victorious Macbeth (Brendan Mulhern) and Lady Macbeth (Katie Stimpson) seem to channel Trump Jr. and Ivanka at the Republican Convention.
This telling of Macbeth subtitled “Fear in the Night”, gives us the American spirit of today—reptilian and roiling.
Stagecraft Steals the Show
Though the acting is almost uniformly top-tier, it is the stagecraft that steals the show.
It even begins with the program notes on sensuously textured paper stock suggesting its been blood-soaked. The next day it will sit on your table daring you to recycle it. You won’t move fast to do so. (Graphic Design: Devin Mawdsley)
Music Moves the Actors
From those first notes of so American rock n’roll, music overlays continue to harken Americana, for example with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.
Trumping this (all pun intended) is the use of scratchy drawn violin strings, insistent drums, and other sound effects synchronized with precision to the action on the stage. (Sound editing and composition: KG Price). Often--such as when charismatic Brendan Mulhern in the title role crumbles his neck and torso to the cacophony of atonal strings--you’ll find your eyes wandering stage left to the darkened on-stage music pit that seems to be moving the actors like marionettes.
Many Choreographed Moments
That so many of the actors can dance and move as well as they can make Shakespeare’s lines ease out like TV sitcom scripts greatly helps. You’ll especially notice this in the performance by Katie Stimpson as Lady Macbeth- from her first sultry entrance emerging from the diaphanous curtain to her final suicide pose. Then again, when you hear her spit out her disdain for her husband’s nature being too “full of the milk of human kindness” you too may wonder why every other Shakespearean actress perhaps underutilized the power of this line.
You also see choreographer’s instincts at work when Malcolm (Hector Alvarez) leads his fighting ensemble to battle or when Macbeth and Macduff (Jerome Hicks) duke it out.
Easy to Follow
For the many Chicagoans who rejoice in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's ability to make the language of Shakespeare’s time highly accessible, know you will find such in this production too, and perhaps more so. This is very easy to follow. Mulhern’s expressions alone telegraph the action and emotional contents underlying them in most of the scenes.
That said, if you aren’t already familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and won’t at least make time to read the Cliff Notes this probably isn’t your show. On the other hand, it strikes this reviewer that Theatre Y’s “MACBETH—Fear in the Night” is one of those rare productions that one might like to see more than once, especially if your first viewing was before November 9.
Trumpville on the Stage
Directors usually take on the challenge of Shakespeare scripts’ lacework of verbal pearls to shine a light on the human condition. Think instead of Michael Moore understanding how stagecraft and superlative acting can tell a Trumpville tale with greater effect.
You can lick your November 9 wounds as the political pundits on the airwaves keep loading them with salt, or you can make your way to Chopin Theatre for a far more entertaining and pithy bottling of l'état américain.
Hector Alvarez; Tanner Bradshaw; Cody Beyer; Adrian Garcia; Arch Harmon; Kevlyn Hayes; Jerome Hicks; Melissa Lorraine; Matthew James McMullen; Brendan J. Mulhern; Jackie Richards; Eric K. Roberts; Laurie Roberts; Katie Sherman; Daniel Shtivelberg; Katie Stimpson; Kris Tori; Nick Wenz; Michelle Ziccarelli
Light Design - Michael Rathbun; Costume Design - Branimira Ivanova; Sound editing & composition - KG Price; Technical Direction - Chuck Michalek; Asst Director - Julia Santa
Now through December 4.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM
Sundays at 4:00 PM
1543 West Division
Photos: Devron Enarson
This review was excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.