Friday, February 18, 2011

Short Shakespeare Long On Laughs, Lunges and Linguistics

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth
Photo by Michael Brosilow. 
Banquo (Mike McNamara) fights off murderers (Ben Huth and Glenn Stanton) sent by Macbeth to assassinate him, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, directed and adapted by David H. Bell and playing now through March 5, 2011.

We were thrilled to check out our first production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater last Saturday.   At first I was a bit leery about reviewing an abridged, kid friendly version, since I come from a theatre background myself, and always loved Shakespeare.   I was even in Twelfth Night in college.   My fears were unfounded.   David H. Bell kept the 75 minute version true to the original language and characters, and he did not dumb it down at all.

"The Scottish Play" is one of my favorites, plot and character-wise.   I also love the theatre superstitions, and the counter curse rituals that have evolved.   You can read more about the Macbeth curse, and President Obama's Macbeth faux pas,  in ChiIL Mama's prior post HERE.   

This is the basic gist:   The old actors' superstition says the Scottish play's name can not be spoken in a theatre, or it brings bad luck.   Over the years, freak accidents and even deaths have plagued productions.   Too bad nobody told President Obama.   He dared to say Macbeth in Ford Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, in February of 2009, and he hasn't had the best of luck since!

Certainly the production was fast paced, but all the key elements were there, and nothing crucial was glaringly absent.   The show flowed well and even the youngest audience members sat through the Shakespearean dialogue in rapt attention.   Our two had seen a wonderful, outdoor production of Midsummer Night's Dream two summers ago, as their initiation to live Shakespeare.   And once again, they embraced The Bard and enjoyed the show.

Du Jay and Sagezilla were absolutely captivated by the well choreographed knife and sword fight scenes, brilliantly accentuated by drums.   Q & A highlight:   
     "Did anyone get hurt during practices or the show?"
     "We learned the fight choreography early and practiced it daily, so we all know it well and can adjust if something starts to go wrong.   Still, it's quick, and people do get run into.   Once you get hit by a Mag light flash light, you learn to duck fast!"

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth
Photo by Michael Brosilow. 
A witch (Dorcas Sowunmi) leads her coven in a ritual to predict Macbeth's fate in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, directed and adapted by David H. Bell 

The kids also loved the weird sisters with their smoking cauldron and prophetic mutterings.   It was a stoke of genius casting Dorcas Sowunmi as an archetypal voodoo priestess, puppet mistress, with a coven of zombie, fallen soldiers, to do her bidding.

Amid a chain link fence and modern nods in set design, the timeless themes of self fulfilling prophecy, hunger for power, and the cycle of violence, fear and revenge passionately played out.   We also loved the simple but effective enormous, red silk that doubled as royal robes, and as a visually gripping flood of rippling, rising blood.  

Chicago Shakespeare Theater has done a truly fantastic job of bring out the dark drama of Macbeth in a way that appeals to a multi generational audience. The seats were filled with an enthusiastic and diverse crowd.    This was most apparent during the impressive Q & A which follows each show.    Intelligent and well thought out queries came from curious young children, teens and adults who were all absolutely intrigued and drawn in to the drama.

Sagezilla and Du-Jay enjoyed playing a quote game we made up.   Macbeth is filled with well known lines that have seeped into our modern language and pop culture offerings.   Even at the ages of 7 & 9, our kids recognized many familiar lines.    They also poured over the visually exciting program, full of interesting tidbits about Macbeth's curse, history, cast doubling, a clear synopsis and of course graphic, dripping, bloody quotes.

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth
Photo by Michael Brosilow. 
Lesley Bevan as Lady Macbeth and Mark Montgomery as Macbeth in Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, directed and adapted by David H. Bell 

All the actors were professional and passionate and Lesley Bevan and Mark Montgomery were particularly memorable.   Of course Lady Macbeth is infamous for her delirious ramblings ala "Out, damn spot..."   but I found the most compelling and creepy lines by far were her take on the following:

I have given suck, and know
How tender 't is to love the babe
that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in
my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his
boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so
sworn as you
Have done to this. (I, vii, 54-59)

It just rang so true, and made me involuntarily shudder and see her as far more deeply power hungry and evil than any of her other actions or lines.   At the time I though it was because as an attachment parenting, baby wearing, long term nursing Mama, I remember those tender, sweet early years of nursing so fondly.   I recall overflowing with love for my kids and having an overwhelming protective urge, that I would gladly die for my babies before letting anything endanger them.   

So, I was absolutely fascinated to hear Lesley expound on that very section during the post show questions.    She was asked why various Lady Macbeths  have ranged widely in age.    Lesley said that it was, of course, a casting call, but that she personally would not have wanted to attempt a character as intense, multifaceted and challenging as Lady Macbeth at a younger age.   She said, "It takes some maturity and experience to do the character justice."

Lesley went on to say she'd just became a mother around 8 months ago and actually memorized her lines while breast feeding!   That's some powerful, work changing life experience!   All in all, we were quite impressed, and absolutely recommend checking out Macbeth.   School groups are in during the week days, but every Saturday at 11:00am is open to the public.   Check out Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's website for ticket prices, availability and more.

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