Something Wicked This Way Comes
I was terrified even before the lights went down.
The Folger Theatre's new production of Macbeth will do that to you. The buzzed-about show is co-directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller), and while magic and cool effects were promised, so was a heaping amount of blood, and that's what I wasn't sure my stomach could handle.
Without giving away the surprises that make the show so powerful, I offer an FAQ to let you know what to expect.
Should it just be called "There Will Be Blood"?
The publicity photos don't lie; the red stuff dribbles, oozes slowly, appears suddenly and in one powerful moment, pours. But it's used so deliberately, in moments when you don't expect it; it's almost a character unto itself. That's what makes it different from a slasher flick, and that arty intentionality is what thankfully kept my tummy from making its own horror show.
What's the magic like?
The tamest illusion is a knife sticking out of someone's chest.
Wait, I though you said it wasn't gory.
There's violence, but it's not gratuitous. That knife illusion isn't indicative of the show. Characters vanish from the stage and then reappear, blood seeps out of nowhere to stain clothes, and the contents of the witches' cauldron produce the biggest how-did-they-do-that? illusion of the night. Just as Macbeth becomes consumed by decoding the witches' prophecies, so did I sometimes become so fixated on figuring out the magic that I realized I'd missed what happened in an entire scene.
So what's the answer? How do they do that?
Smoke and mirrors? (And yes, there are uses of both.) The tricks make you want to go see the show again and again, because there's so much to pay attention to. First, there's Shakespeare's language itself, all those turns of phrase that have become part of the lexicon. I also spent much of the night gaping at the gothic, industrial set, whose centerpiece is a gate of metal bars as twisted as Macbeth's mental state. And then there are the sound effects, performed live on stage by a caged percussionist who is mostly obscured from view. In short, a lot of the magic is carried off with old-fashioned distraction techniques.
Penn & Teller usually play in Vegas. Are there showgirls at the Folger?
Kate Eastwood Norris (who plays Lady Macbeth) is ferocious, and Karen Peakes as Lady Macduff creates an especially wrenching scene, too. As for the Weird Sisters, let's just say I haven't enjoyed witches rapping so much since "Into the Woods." But to the heart of your question, my friend commented on how the production reflected the Penn & Teller motifs of "mundane moments spiked by violence."
Man, this sounds incredible. How much did this show cost to produce?
That, I think, is one of the biggest questions. The costume/makeup budget alone has to be hefty. I mean, is Lady Macbeth's slippery negligee made out of some miracle stain-resistant fibers, or do they actually have enough gowns to ruin one for each performance?
Why did Ian Merrill Peakes (Macbeth) say, "This is live theater, people!"
Wait, were you there last night, too? I can only assume it was unscripted. Maybe he wanted to remind us that even though the show feels cinematic, it depends on craft and timing to pull this off.
I can't wait to see the show, but my significant other/parents/visitors aren't into theater. Or Shakespeare. Bummer, right?
What?! Take 'em anyway. This is a spectacle of a show. And to those who worry about the converse, that the Teller gimmicks will overshadow the Bard, don't. What I loved most of all was how the technical magic only underscored what we generally think of as the traditional magic of theater -- the elements to make you believe this ephemeral construction.
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