Short Shakespeare! Macbeth

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Short Shakespeare Macbeth

Adapted and Directed by Kirsten Kelly

From William Shakespeare

Presented by Chicago Shakespeare

Macbeth for Young People Introduces Magic of the Stage

Part of Chicago Shakespeare’s core mission is to share theatre with young audiences. To that effect, they put on abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays for school audiences, and the public is admitted on Saturdays before the show goes on tour. They estimate they will perform before over 1000 students a day for five weeks. With their world-class talent and deep understanding of Renaissance drama, there are few artists better equipped for cultivating young audiences. While planning to see my own first Short Shakespeare, I was a bit unsure of the company’s selection of Macbeth. It is already Shakespeare’s shortest play, and I wasn’t sure how they could abbreviate it further without reducing it to caricature. I have also seen Macbeth or an adaptation of it four times in the last four years, and am getting fatigued. However, this production is admirable, and the performance I saw fully served its purpose of captivating young audiences and inviting their interest.

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The show opens with ensemble member Christopher Sheard (Lennox) giving a short spiel to the kids in the audience. Along with the usual explication of proper etiquette, he soothes the teens’ fears about understanding old-fashioned language and whether this will be fun. Sheard is casual, approachable, and knows how to improvise humor on just the right level, which is necessary for making a speech that would feel condescending in the wrong hands. It also helps in this particular play Sheard assures them there will be lots of sword fighting and actors entering through the house. Director Kirsten Kelly understood using the entire playing space is another valuable tactic for showing theatre’s unique capabilities.

So in that spirit of hopefully not too condescending explanations, Macbeth is the story of a Scottish nobleman (Chris Genebach) who receives a prophecy from three witches he shall become king. His wife (Lanise Antione Shelley) interprets this as meaning he should usurp and kill the current king (Jeffrey Baumgartner), which they do, but discover afterwards they’ll have to kill a lot more people to secure their position. Ironically, this only turns everyone against them, and Macbeth’s prophesized invulnerability had some caveats. Though a simple story, Kelly directed it so that the language creates no obstacle to the audience understanding it. I missed one witch’s petty whining about a woman who wouldn’t share her chestnuts, and the dirty jokes about Malcolm’s mom, but Kelly’s cuts to the script preserved the key speeches while moving the action forward the rest of the time.

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Chris Genebach’s Macbeth is emotionally unstable, and not just because of the more limited timeframe to show the character’s arc. He makes the usurper seem truly dangerous and delusional, while prone to fits of melancholy and dependent on his wife. The bony Lanise Antione Shelley plays Lady Macbeth as a crouching supervillain who delights in power. Her speeches mesmerized the audience, and her “yet here’s a spot” moment carefully balanced pathos with justice. It may be these characterizations are a bit blunter than would be played for adults or in a less truncated script. However, for the purpose of explaining the most basic story, they were highly effective. The witches, Kevin Cox, Tiffany Yvonne Cox, and Andrea San Miguel, are snarling, ugly figures in masks designed by Melissa Veal. Weird indeed, they introduced the audience into the world of the play through their painful movements and harsh, biting voices.

During the talk-back, the teenagers seemed eager to engage the actors, who all responded eloquently. Most of the questions that day focused on design, such as inquiries about the construction of Robert S. Kuhn’s beautiful costumes. The actors all fully embraced their roles as educators, and mixed in their own experiences with more general explanations of theatrical practice. I could tell that almost all the young people in attendance felt comfortable with the interaction, and had followed the story. Kevin O’Donnell’s original musical underscoring was also a great aid to them. Matt Hawkins’s fight choreography, which is just as developed as in any full version, also was a point of interest, as it had allowed a small cast to create heavy battles. This version of Macbeth is an ideal way to convince new audiences of the joy in Shakespeare, and is strong enough to appeal to people who know the story accompanying them as well.

Highly Recommended

Jacob Davis

Reviewed January 24, 2015

For more information, see Macbeth’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, in the Courtyard Theatre, 800 East Grand Avenue, Chicago. For tickets, call 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com. Tickets are $16-20. Public showings are Saturdays at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm through February 14. Running time is about seventy-five minutes, including a talk-back.

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