J.R.R. Tolkien often railed against the supernatural in Shakespeare despite appropriating many of the tropes in his own work (the Lord of the Rings’ Ents were a counterpunch referencing Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, for one). He hated the Weird Sisters because “drama is anthropocentric … human characters hold the stage and upon them attention is concentrated.”
Magician Teller, with co-director Aaron Posner, disagree in their Chicago Shakespeare interpretation of Macbeth (Johnny Thompson did the actual magic design), running at the Yard space through June 24. The various ghosts of the recently dispatched pop in and out, a dagger actually floats before the hesitant Thane, and perhaps the biggest magic of all is hearing Teller speak in the humorous, pre-show, “turn off your cell phones” speech.
The creative team manifests the necessary magic in this play and theater-at-large, manufacturing meta-moments “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Lady Macbeth (elegant Chaon Cross) is the mistress of misdirection in smearing Duncan’s grooms with DNA evidence, by faux fainting when the king’s carcass is discovered, by claiming her husband (bold Ian Merrill Peakes) is prone to fits when he freaks out about bloody Banquo at their banquet.
After all, the script was written under King James I, who claimed to be descended from Banquo (Andrew White here) and wrote about witches and their familiars in his hit book Daemonologie. The occult held sway in the real world (“witch hunts” are having a heyday in our current Twittersphere too) and, despite the protestations of Frodo’s father, here on stage.
These wry, wailing women (McKinley Carter, Theo Germaine and Emily Ann Nichelson) are omnipresent in white wraps (designed by Mara Blumenfeld, who also gives gorgeous, blood-colored gowns to the Lady, and kilts to the men). They are more physical and less verbal as much of their text is cut.
The triumvirate haunts the three doorways or observes from the spiral iron staircase (designed by Daniel Conway), or from the percussion platform looming over the stage. Under a collection of animal skulls, behind “Musical Instruments of Darkness” (designed by Tom Waits’ collaborator Kenny Wollesen), Ronnie Malley (as Hecate) provides ominous beats throughout, alongside Andre Pleuss’ creepy soundscape.
This trio reminds us that things are upside down, that “fair is foul and foul is fair” (Fake News!), but are they driving the action or merely predicting man’s murderous machinations? The play and this production remain nebulous about their reportage, although the language is accessible, gallows humor is appropriately inserted, and colorblind casting well implemented.
Theater and illusion are ephemeral, living only on the imagination. Yet audiences get to glimpse the unconscious in Macbeth’s soliloquies and in his wife’s sleepwalking confessions, making magic and manifestation as happy a couple as the main characters in this deft, sleight-of-hand interpretation.
Macbeth runs through June 24 in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier. Tickets are $48-$88 at 312-595-5600.