Written by William Shakespeare
Well acted with some over-the-top elements
|Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
There’s an Onion article entitled something like, “Shakespeare Play Set in Time, Place Shakespeare Intended”. It’s a satirical take on the fact that not many straight Shakespeare adaptations are seen anymore. There’s nothing wrong with this, and there are some practical reasons (budget being perhaps the biggest). Some daring riffs work quite well, but others overlook the core tenet of any Shakespeare play: the language. It’s all there: the wordplay, the story, everything that makes Shakespeare wonderful is in the text. Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s Macbeth has a lot of strong elements, but a few superfluous touches make what might be a great production, just good.
This reimagining of PET’s first production, 2005’s Absolute Macbeth, is somewhat high-concept, reimagining the iconic trio of witches as ritual priestesses, wearing animal skins and dancing wildly around a painted pentagram as they curse a Scottish soldier who will mightily rise and fall. Director Richard Engling’s program note talks of Macbeth as a scapegoat for everything negative. Which led me to ask, was Macbeth supposed to be possessed the whole time? How do you explain his ambitious wife egging on his every murderous move, even contributing to the bloody mayhem? I couldn’t quite make sense of this, and found the voodoo-Satanist aspect over-the-top and unnecessary. Not that witches have to have gray hair and a smoking cauldron, but going to another extreme almost makes these spooky characters campy.
However, some additions work very well, such as having the witches double as servants and other minor characters (often just using masks held in front of their faces). This, coupled with a live percussion score, contribute to the supernatural feel of the play in an appropriate way. (Kudos to music director Nick Freed, sound designer Andrew Dallas, and the actors who double as percussionists.) While the pentagram is a bit cheesy, the rich jewel tones of Charles C. Palia, Jr.’s set and Delia Ridenour’s costumes are beautiful, as is the terrifying makeup design for Banquo’s ghost. Director Engling keeps up the pace without rushing, and nicely builds suspense.
The acting is strong too: odd priestess metaphor aside, the witches (Krystal Mosley, Emily Nichelson and Kasey O’Brien) are beautiful and deadly forces of nature, acting and dancing with aplomb. Though Jovan King’s Macbeth gets a little bombastic from time to time, overall he is charismatic and compelling as the Scottish king should be. Lana Smithner (who closely resembles Idina Menzel) is a stunning Lady Macbeth, successfully avoiding cliché and presenting a snakelike grace – until the character’s very believable mental breakdown. Arthur Moss is a lovely, grandfatherly Duncan, and – though she only has one scene – Kate Smith is a fierce and memorable Lady MacDuff (ditto young Wendy Walter as her daughter). I’m still not sure why Banquo is played by a woman, but Paige Fodor’s imposing presence and impeccable delivery convinced me to just go with it.
There’s a lot to like about Macbeth: the wonderful design and performances make for an entertaining evening. If only the whole priestess/scapegoat aspect had been discarded, it would be even more enjoyable. With Shakespeare adaptations, there’s a fine line between innovation and camp – coming up with new details is great, but the text should be paramount.
Macbeth continues through March 2nd at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $10-$20, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PETheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Richard Engling
Jake Baker (Murderer 2, Apparition 2, Percussionist), Brian Bradford (Donalbain, Young Siward), Andrew Canada (Captain, Murderer 3), Paige Fodor (Banquo), Nick Freed (Ross), Kevin M. Grubb (Porter, Old Man, Doctor), Jeff Harris (MacDuff), Brandon Johnson (Malcolm), Jovan King (Macbeth), Orion Lay-Sleeper (Caithness, Murderer 1, Percussionist), Krystal Mosley (Witch 1, Messenger), Arthur Moss (Duncan, Siward), Emily Nichelson (Witch 3, Fleance), Kasey O’Brien (Witch 2, Seyton), Hillary Sigale (Percussionist, u/s Gentlewoman), Kate Smith (Lady MacDuff, u/s Witches), Lana Smithner (Lady Macbeth), Julian Stroop (Lennox), Wendy Walter (MacDuff’s Daughter, Apparition 3), Helen Young (Gentlewoman, Servant, Apparition 1, u/s Lady Macbeth)
behind the scenes
Richard Engling (director, photos), Jen Poulin (assistant director), Rachel Ramirez (dramaturg), Nicole Smith (stage manager), Cathy Crocco (assistant stage manager), Zack Meyer (fight choreographer), Charles C. Palia, Jr. (set design), John Kelly, Sophie Blumberg (lighting design), Delia Ridenour (costume design), Vivian Knouse (props design), Nick Freed (music director), Andrew Canada (fight captain), Andrew Dallas (sound design), Dustin Pettegrew (tech director), Kimberly Boler (casting director), Sam Stelmack (production manager), Cynthia Bottomley (electrician), Cathleen Ann (graphic design).