Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Macbeth - The Power of Spittle

We were told that the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's version of Macbeth was for mature audiences. What this meant was blood and bare breasts. Also guns. And crazy lights and set stuff and some smoke machines and see-through bath tubs and all sorts of other cool stuff.

Scottish accents? Kilts? No no, my friends, this was a modern adaptation set in a quasi-modern universe where soldiers wear fatigues, noblemen wear suits, and witches wear... stripper bondage gear. That's fine; it was like a Shakespeare action movie. And with the price of admission you certainly got your money's worth full of bangs, explosions, weird sound effects and nudity.

All in all, I had a very enjoyable evening at the theatre and found the show to be thoroughly entertaining.

But when you're willingly strapping yourself in for some Shakespeare, you're going to want a little more than pretty staging. And for all the technical awesomeness, I feel like the shows focus was more on taking the story - we all know this one right? about a Scottish nobleman who murders his king and takes the throne only to flip his shit and get killed - and bringing it into the quasi-modern world and less on just telling the story.

The actor who played Macbeth was technically very sound. He was sound in his stage fighting, certain in his movement and he had a strong stage presence. He enunciated his words to the point where he was spitting after every consonant. I was sitting second row on the side of the stage and could see every molecule of saliva leave his lips, fly through the air and then land splattering against the stage. He enunciated so much it was actually distracting to me.

But at the end of the show I didn't really care for the character. I felt no real bond between him and Lady Macbeth (who, by the way, was excellent apart from being complicit in this lack of a bond). I heard every word he said clearly, but in my gut I didn't understand him and I didn't sympathise with him because I didn't feel like he had been torn or felt any remorse or any of the conflicting emotions that would have made him human to me.

So at the end, I started asking myself 'why?' Why should I care about this guy? Why did he betray the king? And, while we're at it, why all the nudity and the blood? Never thought I'd ask that particular question but I did. And, while we're at it, why are we bringing this play into the modern world? What's the point? What do we gain?

In the last act of the show, Lady Macbeth has committed suicide. She is naked in the see-through bathtub, ass displayed prominently towards the audience through bloody bathwater. Next to the bathtub sits Macbeth. He stares out at the audience and, stone faced, proceeds to recite the 'sound and fury' monologue with spittle flying through the air. There he sits, competing with a naked bloody ass, speaking every syllable but the sum of syllables signifying nothing.

That scene was more or less the experience in a nutshell.

1 comment:

Crump said...

"What's the point? What do we gain?"

I ask these same questions every time I see or even hear about a modern adaptation of pretty much any play.