Review: What the Weird Sisters Saw by Idle Muse Reenvisions Macbeth Through the Eyes of Its Most Elusive Characters

Review by Devony Hof.

Reminiscent of the Three Fates of Greek mythology and famous for their incantation, “Double, double, toil and trouble,” the weird sisters of Macbeth are an iconic trio. But what does the world look like from the perspective of these prophets?

With their second production of What the Weird Sisters Saw, adapted and directed by the company’s artistic director, Evan Jackson, Idle Muse Theatre shows audiences how the witches came to meet Macbeth upon the stormy heath. Jackson’s adaptation, remounted from Idle Muse’s first production in 2009, follows the three sisters as they unravel a future of bloodshed and sorrow with increasing urgency.

Jackson manages to inject suspense into a story most audiences will be familiar with, seamlessly blending Shakespeare’s text with new dialogue, and a tight ensemble draws viewers into a medieval setting that still feels distinct from the original. The titular trio, played by Caty Gordon-Hall, Jennifer Mohr and Jamie Redwood, is captivating in their quest to prevent Scotland’s destruction before it’s too late.

The production’s designers create a sufficiently spine-chilling atmosphere. Stina Taylor’s set consists of eerie branches emerging from the ever-present fog, which was, at times, so thick I felt as if I had partaken in the sisters’ “mushroom” brew. Mohr’s costumes seem to draw on druidic traditions, with rope elements that suggest the sisters’ roles as fate spinners. The standout work, however, comes from L.J. Luthringer, whose unsettling sound design and composition spurred the play’s pacing forward when it might have faltered.

Caty Gordon-Hall, Mara Kovacevic (center) as Lady Macbeth, and Jamie Redwood. Photo by Steven Townsend.

In Idle Muse’s production, the sisters are younger than their traditional counterparts, although centuries of Macbeth stagings have seen the characters played by every age and gender. They are also less mysterious, and therefore less unnerving, than the hags in the original play. This seems a necessary cost of placing the weird sisters at the center of Macbeth’s story.

Many have theorized about the motivations of the three witches in Shakespeare’s play, often attributing malicious intent or a desire to dismantle the status quo. What the Weird Sisters Saw presents the trio as empathetic seers who only want to prevent further deaths. In this version, the Porter, played with delightful wiliness by Brendan Hutt, almost supplants the witches’ role in the original by delivering mysterious warnings with a sly twist.

As the play progressed, I found myself wondering why the sisters were so intent on saving Scotland and its king. Shakespeare’s work sees them sink a man’s ship because his wife insulted one of them for begging from her. As women, and poor women at that, the witches are only able to influence fate by means outside the traditional patriarchal structure. Jackson’s adaptation never interrogates this issue directly, leaving his audience to ponder the sisters’ determination to preserve the current hierarchy.

The tellings and retellings of a story, like the threads of fate woven by the weird sisters, grow tangled. What the Weird Sisters Saw is worth seeing, if only because it prompts one to more deeply engage with the original text, and the three sisters themselves.

What the Weird Sisters Saw by Idle Muse Theatre Company continues through April 14 at the Edge Off Broadway, 1133 W. Catalpa Ave. Running time is 1 hour 50 minutes. Tickets are $20-$30 for performances Thursday-Sunday.

Devony Hof is a Chicago-based writer. Originally from Palo Alto, Calif., she graduated from Northwestern with degrees in English and theater and has been writing everything from poems to plays to reviews ever since.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s  arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

Picture of the author
Guest Author

Our Guest Authors are occasional contributors to our site, and authorship is noted at the beginning of each piece. Some of them go on to become regular authors and write under their own bylines. If you're interested in contributing to Third Coast Review, drop us a note and tell us about yourself and what you write.