Okay. Confession time.
One: I have seen more productions of Macbeth throughout my life than there are Star Wars movies, several times over. And, when I was in the second grade, I saw Hamlet on public TV and fell in love with that poor misunderstood Danish prince. Heathcliff came later and established a clear and steady routine of falling for dark moody types. Hence the many Macbeths. I always wanted to scream, “Don’t listen! Lady Macbeth is evil!” But I didn’t.
Two: I didn’t even see a single Star Wars movie until 2005. Or maybe 2006. And, foolishly, some might say, never even knew I was missing something. My husband, so stunned that he had have married such a uninformed woman, made me sit down one weekend and watch them all. Back to back. It was hard for him not to offer about as much backstory as there were actual movies, but we made it through. But something still bothers me. Why didn’t Lucas make them in order? Why he trying to confuse us?
Anyway, all this is to establish my non-geek credentials. Just to make it clear, that I’m more literary nerd than actual geek. Also, I like a good challenge. So when the chance came to see a new play in town called MacSith, Macbeth in a Star Wars universe, I knew I had to go.
So in case this already has you geeked and ready to buy tickets, because like what else could a person want entering the dark and dreary of another Chicago winter (almost like the Denmark of the imagination, right?) than Shakespeare with light sabers? Here’s what you need to know. Buy your tickets fast, because they’ll sell out faster than the Birnam Wood marches on MacSith.
The next thing you need to know is that this show is serious Shakespeare: no spoofy, comic send-up of Star Wars. There will be no sing-a-longs. In fact, director Orion Couling has kept the musical touches from the Star Wars film to a very light touch to keep the focus on the action in stage. This acting in this show by professional and youth actors alike, is dialed so tight, the cuts for movement and other adaptations of the original script so right on, that the full force of the tragedy hits the audience hard.
The space hosting the show, Right Brain Theater Project, is a tiny black box theater (40 seats in total). The cast has 30 players. Couling’s company built a back stage space, and there’s an aisle running through the center of the audience which serves as an additional entrance and exit for action. The logistics involved in the show are impressive and in the little black box, there is no where for anyone to hide. To work, it all has to flow with perfect traffic control. Check out these stats. In 105 minutes of play there are: over 100 sound cues and 98 light cues. Actors all change places in pitch black. No easy feat. Couling says of the show, “It’s cued like a rock concert but staged like a black box.”
Also remarkable is the fact that the show is loaded with very young actors between the ages of eight to 15 years old. In particular, brother and sister, Will and Grace Gallager had significant roles in the show. Will, who is 15, played Banquo’s son, Fleance, with the strength and focus you’d expect in a much older actor. Grace, just 13, is one of MacDuff’s children, a young Jedi in training. She is poised on stage: an elegant young lady and fierce fighter. All the actors went through professional stage combat training and sword/light saber training together. The kids did everything the adult actors had to. No slack for the young ones here. And the results show. The light saber battles of MacSith are epic. And with the combination of acting and lighting, it all looks real. And because the theatre is so small, every audience member can feel the hum and rumble of all that in their bones.
While Shakespeare snobs might quake at all the cutting and changes, the show stays essentially true in spirit to the original with some changes filling in where the Bard chose to leave things out and also offering a moment of redemption near the end. And without giving anything away, we all thought it was true, didn’t we, that in the original play, Lady Macbeth was the real driver behind all the murderous treachery? Well, in MacSith, Lady M really does make her husband seem like a pawn. She finds and deliciously exploits his latent lust for power and uses her own sexuality to push him ever onward, steeping them both in more and more blood.
And yet, even Lady MacSith seems to be controlled by a fascinating combination of her own evil impulses which are brought to fruition, by the power of the Weird sisters, who in this play, are a force all their own. The combination of their costumes and body language, makes them appear unformed and increasingly animalistic and monstrous as the play goes on and as their evil builds. The same is true for the bounty hunters, each a little more evil than the next. Rok Teasley is Bounty Hunter Number Three; the most sinister of the three. He wears the massive skin of a Wookie, battle damaged armour and plays the part with a lasciviousness, especially when on stage with Lady M. His dark laughs rolls beneath the screams of those he slays.
Fans of Star Wars or Macbeth, both or neither, should go see this play. The show is a true roller coaster of action and emotion that flies along a very sturdy track. All the elements of the illusion of theater are working together at a high level here. It’s one hell of a ride. And after the show, the actors come out to talk with the audience, which is super cool. You get to hold a light saber!
What’s also really great is that Orion Couling’s company E.D.G.E. theater is all about youth development, focused on helping young people deal with violence and developing approaches which allows them to, “gain an understanding of their own personal strengths, power and inner peace, to become peaceful warriors in their lives and communities.” E.D.G.E. stands for, “esteem development through greater expectations.” They work with home and un-schoolers, as well as, “schoolies” and have a program in Schaumburg, Ups for DownS which gives young people with Down Syndrome a chance to be on stage and have the light shine on them as strong and powerful young people.
It’s really kind of amazing. At a time, where so many are on their devices, constantly plugged into the internet, hardly able to focus for more than a few minutes at a time on anything of consequence, this show has done something remarkable. It’s made a rocking hour of Shakespeare totally relevant and accessible for pretty much everyone. Families should go see it because it’s a great opportunity to talk about consequences. Alternately, it would make a great date either for couples or a group of friends.
Oh, and bring your mobile devices. They love when you take pictures (no flash please) during the show. And, grab your tickets now. The theater is small and tickets are going fast.