Chicago Theatre Review
The Sacrifice of Macbeth
Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents Macbeth
Richard Engling, the director of Macbeth presented by Polarity Ensemble Theatre, invites you to offer up the evils you see in society and in your life and let Macbeth’s horrible deeds purge us of those problems. In Engling’s version of Macbeth playing at The Greenhouse Theatre, there is a tribal, ritualistic element to turn Macbeth into a formal sacrifice for the good of society. This is an interest position to take on the Scottish play, and helps to justify the darkness the play holds. The only drawback is that also sacrifices the depth of the characters in the process.
If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it begins with three witches, or perhaps in this version they could be seen as shamans, who predict that Macbeth will gain titles and soon be King of Scotland. Fueled by ambition and this prophecy, Macbeth then proceeds to forces his way into power and with the help of his wife, Lady Macbeth, commits gruesome murders. It is a very dark play about how evil infests the mind. And in the end, Macbeth’s ambition is his undoing. Of course, there are many Shakespearian scholars that would most likely find issue with this succinct summary, but the play is often seen as Shakespeare’s cursed play, because of it’s journey into the dark arts.
Engling’s direction of Macbeth takes the play further down the path of a supernatural ritual. The witches in this version have animal masks, incense, and dance around their caldron like witch doctors. They summon Macbeth to them, creating him as a vessel for all of our evil. For those familiar with the play, you will not recognize this beginning, as it is fabricated and the true start of the play does come until five minutes into the production. It is an admirable choice Engling has made, to try to connect this cursed play to a need for cathartic purging in our society. In many ways, he is bringing out the play’s roots in Greek tragedy to the forefront, but the tribal elements of the play are perhaps a little too full a drums and feathers where the ceremony could take a subtler approach.
The entire production does a fine job of the play, but the emphasis is certainly on the ritualistic aspects. This means that it doesn’t spend as much time making Macbeth a real man who has succumbed to his own internal evils. Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production does a really great job of inserting the witches into scenes they aren’t normally in, to indicate they are leading the play toward tragedy. However, many of the other characters came off as less layered then they could perhaps have been. This choice could have been part of the direction to keep the characters in the realm of allegory, but it seemed to leave little room for the actors to deepen the characters. As Macbeth and his Lady are mentally effected by their dark deeds, it becomes difficult to not see them as simply a mad woman and a power hungry man, but much of what makes Shakespeare wonderful is that his character are rarely one dimensional, even the villains.
If you are a fan of Macbeth, Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production is worth seeing for it’s different take on the darkness in the play. Or if you have something you want to offer up during the ritual, there are even ritual cards you can fill out that go into the witches’ cauldron to be burned later. Engling really takes creative leaps with his production of Macbeth that pay off in some ways, while holding the production back in others.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Presented January 30 – March 2 by Polarity Ensemble Theatre at The Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773.404.7336 or by visiting their website www.petheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.