Playwright: William Shakespeare, adapted by Joseph Teller and Aaron Posner
At: The Yard at Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand Ave. ( Navy Pier ). Tickets: 312-595-5600 or ChicagoShakes.com; $48-$88. Runs through: June 24
In the words of Macbeth's infamous witches, you might well "sleep no more" after taking in Chicago Shakespeare's gorgeously horrifying staging of the Scottish Play. In this adaptation by Joseph Teller ( the silent half of Penn and Teller ) and Aaron Posner, the tragedy's gruesome creepiness is a thing of terrible beauty. And when the tragedy's trio of weird sisters begins their witchy incantation to "sleep no more," it's an imperative for the doomed and the damned.
Under Teller's direction, MacBeth is at once a tragedy, a psychological thriller, a ghost story and a stab at the horror genre. It's got cinematic sweep and vivid, intricate detail. It is also packed with magic, illusions designed by Johnny Thompson to eerie effectiveness. The plot is fairly simple: A trio of witches tell Macbeth he will be king of Scotland. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth slaughter their way to the crown.
Teller puts his stamp on the production from the opening scene onward. The first figure to emerge from the shadows isn't the titular Scottish nobleman ( Ian Merrill Peakes ) Instead, we see his wife, Lady Macbeth ( Chaon Cross ), wide-eyed and ghostly in a diaphanous nightgown the color of smoke. There's the slightest hint of madness in her movements, something that marks her as not entirely right. The origin becomes apparent as a silent Lady Macbeth wraps her arms around a tiny coffin.
Shakespeare didn't hide the fact that Lady Macbeth is mourning the death of her only child. But it's a detail that's rarely emphasized in the play's world of murder, mayhem, witches, decapitations, deadly ambition and unquiet ghosts. By emphasizing Lady Macbeth's loss, audiences get a glimmer of insight into what drives her to such unconscionable lengths. Her murderous actions are grief manifested as sociopathy.
Cross' Lady Macbeth is definitive. It's a hair-fine line between ambition and insanity, and Cross wavers between with grace and abandon. As Macbeth, Peakes morphs from warrior to reluctant hero to ruthless obsessive. Teller's supporting cast is equally memorable.
Daniel Conway's immersive set design provides an elaborate two-story structure punctuated by countless shadowy corners and three crimson doors. It's a place of lurking secrets and diabolical intrigue.
Thom Weaver's dramatic lighting adds immeasurably to the ambiance, at one point bathing the entire stage in brilliant shades of red. Sonically, Macbeth also benefits from percussionist Kenny Wollesen, perched high above the stage, making sounds that go bump in the night until the plot's carnage is complete.
Macbeth is a thrill ride filled with surprises. Many of them are deadlybut are also immensely entertaining.