Ionesco’s Macbett, now being staged at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago, succeeds in being both a brilliant satire of the Bard’s play and an angry commentary on 20th century life.
Those who know their Macbeth know that Banquo is one of the early martyrs in that play, that Macbeth murders him and that Banquo’s ghost ends up haunting him for the rest of the play. Banquo is killed in Ionesco’s version, too. But not until he has shown himself to be as petty and capable of being a murderous villain as Macbett.
But then no one comes out looking good in this play. Even Malcolm, the hero of Shakespeare’s version and the so-called hero of this one, who saves Scotland from Macbett in the last minutes of the play, doesn’t look good.
Ionesco’s pessimistic moral: We will be fooled again – and again and again and again. In the hands of the wrong director, such a play could be depressing indeed. But not in the hands of Joanna Settle.
Her production of Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic one act Play, performed as part of the 1999 Around-the-Coyote Festival, was unforgettable. Staged in a store window – the futon store one door south of the Chopin Theater – it was on of the sharpest versions of this oft-produced plays I’ve seen.
Macbett is a similarly brilliant production. Not a second of stage time is wasted in this wild production, which manages to cram into three acts slapstick and tragedy, vaudeville and high opera, moments of incredible silliness and bits of satire so cutting (and insightful) it takes your breath away.
Settle, of course, has a lot of help along the way. Gavin Witt’s brand new translation of the original play is every bit as smart as you would expect from someone named Witt.
And Andrew Lieberman has given her an incredible set to play on, one with lots of doors so actors can enter and exit wildly and two long trenches running the length of the stage. These trenches are visually interesting. Throughout the show actors leap in and out of them like cartoon characters in some ‘60s psychedelic cartoon. They also remind us of the trenches of World War I. (An apt image for a play as much about war as this one.)
Settle’s “Macbett” is a huge production with 16 actors. In fact, the production is so large it took the combined effort of two theatre companies – Settle’s Division 13 Productions and greasy joan & company.
Leading the cast is Terry Hamilton, whose Macbett succeeds in seeming at once shallow and murderous, modern and medieval, utterly corporate and totally evil. Likewise, Katie Taber turns in a brilliant performance, or rather three brilliant performances, as Lady Duncan, lady Macbett and as one of the witches.
But it’s odd to single out individual performances in a show with as strong an ensemble as this. It is probably more honest to say everyone does a terrific job.
You are not going to see as good a production of this seldom-produced play for a long time to come.
– Jack Helbig –
Macbett designer Andrews Lieberman has turned the expansive Chopin Theatre into something akin to an absurdist shooting range.
Deep trenches run across the playing area (which is made of the kind of wooden paneling one associates with a dated suburban basement) allowing performers to pop up and down like unwitting targets for a viewer’s gun.
– Chris Jones –
Sound designers Mike Frank and Andrew Pluess have assembled a densely layered synthesizer score–opening with a full-scale quasi-World War II air raid–matching in aural magnitude Lieberman’s visual intricacy. Stacy Ellen Rich’s costumes include such imaginative touches as gray-wigged crones delicately balanced on prosthetic spider-canes, ghostly faces visible only through small glassine windows in envelope-shaped cloaks like radiation ponchos, and four utility-players, bilingually representing the voice of the playwright, garbed in matching tunics emblazoned with “la mécanique du quotidian.” And let’s not forget the sequence where a film projector and screen are simultaneously hand-carried across the stage with such smoothly synchronized timing that Dave Smith’s cinematic footage never wobbles out of its frame for an instant.
– Mary Shen Barnidge –
A stunning, anachronistic depiction of warfare, with Macbett and Banquo, under the tyrannical Archduke Duncan’s orders, fighting the forces of Candor and Glamiss. As Duncan’s generals intone, “There isn’t enough earth to bury so many. . . not enough vultures to get rid of so many cadavers.” From pantomimed combat to a peculiar encounter between a warrior and a girl selling lemonade, the shocking travials of war are well-depicted and well-amped the the thunderous work of sound designers Mike Frank and Andre Pluess.
Director Joanna settle and set designer Andrew Lieberman brilliantly utilized the huge space at Chopin Theatre. The audience witnesses powerful suggestions of warfare, as swords plunge below sight lines and victims, hands flail up from the depths of trenches. At other times, the actors deploy trenches and trapdoors to move according to laws of cartoon physics, disappearing from one spot to reemerge seconds later somewhere entirely else.
Katie Taber, Terry Hamilton, James Foster, and Thomas Groenwald head up a talented cast. If you’re looking to get jiggy with the Bard, this inventive production beckons.
– Web Behrens –
Director Joanna Settle clearly has an exacting vision; it seems no element escapes her notice in this production of Eugene Ionesco’s dark, absurdist romp through Shakespeare’s Macbeth. On Andrew Lieberman’s sublimely garish set–a severe expanse of wood-grain paneling and featureless carpet that lumbers gracelessly almost into the audience’s lap–the play seems a kind of nightmarish raver party. The tyrant archduke Duncan is a dissipated, pajama-clad hedonist doted upon by his ultra fey assistant. His wife, a thrift-store dominatrix in mile-high heels, betrays him by conspiring with twin assassins, Macbett and Banquo, who seem pulled from a 1980 new wave clothing catalog. Once Macbett assumes the throne, he’s transformed into a maniacal Vegas performer surrounded by sycophantic minions in white isolation suits and Day-Glo plastic wigs. Visually this Macbett is always interesting, and Settle’s use of the Chopin Theatre’s cavernous space produces more than a few ingenious surprises.
– Justin Hayford –