Director Richard Engling has re-imagined Macbeth in the Polarity Theatre Ensembles’ production of the William Shakespeare classic currently playing at the Greenhouse Theater. For those who are not familiar with this play, Macbeth tells the story of a brave Scottish general (Macbeth) who receives a prophecy from three witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. At first he is suspicious, but ambition and greed are powerful motivators. Consumed by his ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth kills the king (Duncan) and takes the throne for himself. The magnitude of his crime torments Macbeth and his paranoia pushes him to commit more murders to avoid suspicion. In the end the tyrannical ruler is discovered and dealt with, but his death cannot compensate for the evil that he has done. Macbeth channels the emotional and political cost realized when evil is the ladder to power. This is Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy and Engling has moved outside of tradition in creating a ritualistic theme that sets up Macbeth to be sacrificed for his evil deeds for the good of society. This is a bold step to take and much of it works very well.
As the play begins, we see three witches dancing around a cauldron to the rhythmic beat of drums. In this production, the witches are more like spiritual medicine men, wearing animal skins, masks, and burning incense. They have lured Macbeth to them and they prophesize how he will become king of Scotland; slithering their way into his mind to empower his evil side. Macbeth becomes mad for power and embarks on his tragic journey. I liked this opening scene, it is unique, creative, and sets the tone for the rest of the production. The witches played by Krystal Mosley, Kasey O’Brien, and Emily Nichelsen, look the part (costumes by Delia Ridenour) and the rhythms (percussionist Hilary Signale) add a touch of the supernatural to the atmosphere. The set (Charles C. Palia Jr.) is simple and effective; I thought the pentacle on the stage floor was interesting, and the lighting (John Kelly and Sophie Blumberg) casts just the right shadows to keep the air of mystery.
The play unfolds as Macbeth (played by Jovan King), becomes more addicted and hungers for power. He is still torn by what he must do but is pushed over the edge by Lady Macbeth (played by Lana Smithner), who herself is obsessed with the power of becoming queen. Together they step over the line, and once there, cannot return. There is a strong sense of dread and torment as the two attempt to escape suspicion and discovery, and Lady Macbeth’s madness is intensely captured. However, I didn’t feel the evil and treachery that is Macbeth, although there is strength in the portrayal of his character.
The production benefits from a versatile and talented cast including Arthur Moss as Duncan, Kate Smith as Lady McDuff, Jeff Harris as McDuff, Brandon Johnson as Malcom, and Paige Fodor as Banquo (another unique aspect of this production). The rest of the members; Jake Baker, Brian Bradford, Andrew R. Canada, Nick Freed, Kevin Grubb, Orion Lay-Sleeper, Julian Stroop, Wendy Walter, and Helen Young provide strong support. I liked Director Engling’s use of the witches as participants in many of the scenes, holding masks in front of their faces. He also keeps the play moving along, while maintaining the intensity as the plot builds.
Shakespeare has been produced in many different ways and the Polarity Ensemble production is certainly contemporary, unique, and entertaining. The cast is energetic and works hard to deliver a worthwhile evening of theater.
Macbeth continues through March 2nd at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, 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 (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission).
Free parking for Greenhouse Theater Center patrons is available at the former Children’s Memorial Hospital Garage, located at 2316 N. Lincoln, just south of Fullerton Ave. There is a street light that marks the open entrance to the garage. Currently, the first three floors of the parking garage are open to the public for FREE. There is a 5 hour limit. In addition to the garage, there is metered parking on Lincoln Ave.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Roiund-up and click at “Macbeth”.
Editor NOTE: Often “critics”, who really should be called “Reviewers” forget that they are reporters and that the task at hand is to advise readers if the production they are able to see is worth the rtip to the theater and a value. When one gets a new interpretation of an old classic, they often look at it with “blinders’. Theater needs to be judged by the audience.