It’s tough to say who would enjoy the Folger Theatre’s spellbinding new production of Macbeth more: Those who’ve always loved Shakespeare’s shortest, craziest tragedy, or those who’ve always hated it. Either way, get your ass in a seat, pronto.
Directed by Robert Richmond and going on only until September 23 (here’s hoping it gets extended), this version of the Scottish play, a Restoration-era adaptation from William Davenant, actually serves as a lesser-known reminder/predecessor of a show written in the 1960s: Marat/Sade, full title The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. It’s Macbeth set in a madhouse, with inmates running the show. This means, on a certain level, the actors are playing two parts: someone mentally unstable, and that person’s Shakespearean delusion. Juicy.
But that’s only part of the fun: The Folger Consort is also in attendance. This is a spooky, moody, lanterns-and-harpsichord Macbeth, and I wish I could see it three or four more times. The performances are good, the music might be even better — what once was old feels very, very new again.
Singing witches. That’s a full thought.
Ian Merrill Peakes, who last year brought humanity to Folger’s Timon of Athens (also directed by Richmond) offers a potent mix of ambition and paranoia as the bedeviled Scottish usurper. Peakes’s gift for comedic timing proves a welcome respite in this mineshaft-dark production, though, after intermission, it’s his fear that slowly infects and fills the audience. In this he has a splendid accomplice in Kate Eastwood Norris’s Lady Macbeth, rocking an eye patch and finding fresh fun with a character who drips with cliche for lesser actresses. Watch the way these two seize the scary scene back and forth from each other as the king is tormented by the ghost of an uncommonly heart-rending Banquo (a soulful Andhy Mendez).
Production photos do not do this show justice. Don’t believe the pics accompanying this review or on Folger’s website — this is not a college production of Sweeney Todd, nor does it look like one in person.
The witches (Rachel Montgomery, Emily Noël, and Ethan Watermeier all have lovely voices) may use eye of newt and toe of frog, but the magic ingredients here come from Tony Cisek’s scene design, Andrew F. Griffin’s lights, Mariah Anzaldo Hale’s costumes, and Matt Otto’s sound design and particularly Robert Eisenstein’s musical direction — that is a wicked, wicked harpsichord, and the other musicians are all extremely talented, too.. Add a smoke machine or two and who would have thought this old play has so much blood in it?
I think Shakespeare would have loved it.
Feature image Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet.