Theater

Visually exciting ‘Macbeth’ lacks chemistry

“Macbeth” plays through June 24 at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier in Chicago.
“Macbeth” plays through June 24 at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier in Chicago.

Admittedly, I’m not quite certain where to go with Chicago Shakespeare’s current production of “Macbeth.” It’s visually exciting and a stimulating stunner, perfect for the very majestic and unique architecture of The Yard (an incredible venue attached to CST’s main lobby).

A second collaboration, it’s superbly co-directed and adapted by two very different artists with two very different careers: playwright and award-winning theatrical director Aaron Posner and Teller, the usually silent half of the magic team of Penn and Teller (although Teller does speak quite well giving the pre-show announcement). Posner claims to be the “chaotic one” while Teller is the “well-ordered one with an encyclopedia of magic and illusions,” which in this Shakespearean drama, is a match made in heaven since the murderous Macbeths and company are open to illusions and hallucinations from the get-go.

The set designed by Daniel Conway is a stationary, commendable, soaring stronghold of a castle in the forest and the high-in-the-air “Hell’s Attic,” where the three Cirque du Soleil Weird Sisters position themselves to hiss and wail operatically over the foibles of humans. Thom Weaver’s lighting dramatically pinpoints, enhances and illuminates the set with the bonus of Andre Pluess and percussionist Ronnie Malley’s musical transitions. These factors all are complemented by Mara Blumfeld’s costumes, a visually pleasing mix of contemporary and historical simplicity (men in kilts alert!). 

So, herein lies my problem. Everything technical from the six major magical sequences to the tiniest roll of fog work for me. The choice to cast a younger Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is a brilliant one; even the visceral horrors of the brutal eliminations of those in Macbeth’s way are handled well. And let’s face it, this is a Shakespearean thriller of political intrigue and suspense based on the 11th century Scottish king, Mac Bethad Mac Findlaich, so almost everyone dies.

But here’s what doesn’t work for me. Despite the flawless elocution, physical endurance and remarkable scene work of two very attractive leads, Ian Merrill Peakes (Macbeth) and Chaon Cross (Lady Macbeth), there’s no chemistry. It’s as if they are in two separate and unconnected plays. Moreover, I missed the slide and growth of their descents into madness and despair. Lady Macbeth is unlikeably evil from the beginning, and he’s strong and resolute from the start – where are the cracks of shock, blame, sadness, regret, anxiety, and the self-doubt balanced by redeemable qualities? And where is Hecate? A victim of adaptation?

In contrast, the outstanding Timothy D. Stickney as MacDuff is every bit the passionate, noble, wise and judicious character Shakespeare intended. The three Weird Sisters (Theo Germaine, McKinley Carter, Emily Ann Nichelsen) are exquisite, decadent and epicly creepy while Andrew White’s Banquo demonstrates a pathos and honest strength only matched by Matthew Floyd Miller as the Porter, who thankfully provides very welcome comic relief. The supporting ensemble is well-polished and agile. 

To paraphrase a line from the musical “Once,” this production of “Macbeth” “never became what I wanted it to be,” yet it still is a magnificent, brisk two hours and 20 minutes well-worth the sojourn to Navy Pier.

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MACBETH

THROUGH JUNE 24

Two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

The Yard

Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier

Tickets: $48-88

312-595-5600

chicagoshakes.com

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