Playwright: David Greig
At: National Theatre of Scotland
and Royal Shakespeare Company at
Chicago Shakespeare Theater,
800 E. Grand Ave.
Runs through March 22
Playwright: William Shakespeare
At: The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Ave.
Runs through April 4
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
Just three miles separate a home-grown reimagining of Shakespeare's Macbeth and David Greig's high-profile touring sequel from the United Kingdom called Dunsinane. Both productions are playing on Chicago's Grand Avenue, and both have vital things to say about our world today.
Macbeth, of course, is Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy about a warrior thane and his ambitious wife who plot to murder the king, only to be later overthrown. For The Artistic Home production, director Scott Westerman has reset Macbeth to a post-apocalyptic land where clean water is the most precious commodity. Westerman has also teamed with set and lighting designer Jake Bray to create an eerie and watery production with a haphazard set that is as full of surprises as much as it is a likely health-and-safety nightmare for the cast.
The Artistic Home certainly succeeds in its inventive creepiness, particularly with the ever-manipulative weird sisters who crawl and writhe out of the most unexpected places. The rest of the cast is also very game to enhance Westerman's vision, even if it does require actors like Frank Nall as Macduff and John Mossman as Macbeth to engage in some very painful looking fight choreography by David Blixt, or the Malcolm of Julian Hester to show off his considerably toned body in a bathtub scene to symbolically show the power and resources of England when it comes to clean water.
The Artistic Home's Macbeth bathing sequence is notable since it features dialogue that is often trimmed or deemphasized where Malcolm points out that he could be an even worse tyrant ruling Scotland. Dunsinane, a masterfully performed touring co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company, picks up on that notion by showing how difficult it is for the invading English forces to maintain its idea of peace in a foreign land where they don't know the power alliances between rival clans.
Unlike Shakespeare's play, Lady Macbeth ( called Gruach here, and played with firm regal authority by Siobhan Redmond ) survives her second husband's overthrow and proves to be an entrancing and dangerous power player opposing the foppish King Malcolm ( Ewan Donald ) and the commanding Earl of Northumberland, Siward ( Darrell d'Silva ).
Though Greig and director Roxana Silbert set Dunsinane in medieval Scotland, the drama is really more of a commentary on Britain and America's muddled military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade. Greig and Silbert especially hammer this fact home in scenes featuring frustrated English soldiers biding their time or following some horrific orders.
Although it does have a few moments that drag, Dunsinane largely succeeds as a Macbeth sequel and as a wartime drama. But the real winners are Chicago Shakespeare fans who have two great productions both dealing with Macbeth in such close proximity.