Before Saturday's opening-night presentation, executive director Doug Tschopp took the stage for Genesius Guild's traditional pre-show announcements and T-shirt giveaway, and kindly asked the crowd for continued financial support, especially given the organization's decreased support since 2008 from the State of Illinois. Not to make light of a very real monetary concern, but I wish power players from Nike had been there for Tschopp's request. Because after seeing Macbeth, they might've happily handed over a check, considering the motto for everyone involved in director Michael King's inspiriting production appeared to be the same: "Just do it."
There's no budget for fancy pyrotechnics during the witches' incantations? No problem. Sell the scene through the creatures' incandescent craziness and suitably bewitching costumes, hair, and makeup. No elaborate visuals for Banquo's ghostly reappearance? Fine. Suggest the miraculous return, and Macbeth's destabilization, with evocatively Lynch-ian sound effects that begin their cavernous moan with Banquo's arrival and swallow themselves upon his exit. No bucketfuls of blood and viscera for the many murders? Who needs 'em? Use the actors' impassioned roars and shrieks to convey the fury and anguish, and if need be, hide the severed head in a bag - and make sure it lands with an ugly clunk! that makes one fear for postmortal cranial damage.
Again and again, King's production of Shakespeare's legendarily difficult Scottish Play proved both inventive and deeply committed, with the off-stage participants clearly having applied themselves with as much determination as the on-. Designer Andy Shearouse's lighting, Todd Schwartz's recorded sounds, costumer Ellen Dixon's wardrobe (with the witches' garb and Lady M's blood-red gown to-die-for excellent), Earl Strupp's battleship-gray set, choreographer Aaron Sullivan's swordfights that actually began in Lincoln Park proper ... . Each member of Macbeth's gifted technical crew appeared to be working in harmony toward one unified vision. And while the performers, taken together, didn't share that same suggestion of seamlessness - some were notably more prepared than others for the demands of the material - it was rare to see someone not giving a moment his or her all. (On Saturday, however, I occasionally did, which makes this a good place to remind actors that when your gaze shifts to the audience when you're not speaking, our gaze tends to immediately shift to you.)
Macbeth is my all-time favorite Shakespeare tragedy. Yet until this past weekend, I'd somehow never witnessed this sublime tale of political machination, greed, and madness on stage, and it'd been years since I'd seen a filmed version. Consequently, I'd forgotten precisely how rich the play's supporting figures - even the cameos - were until cast members here reminded me. Jason Dlouhy's moving, distressed Banquo, Jim Kent's stalwart, touching Malcolm, and Nicholas Lindell's soulful Doctor made considerable impressions, with Emma Simmons so fantastically forceful as Lady Macduff that I silently cursed the Bard for giving her only one scene. By contrast, King deserves grateful thanks for expanding Seyton's role to allow more stage time for Michael Currie; the wholly present actor is so offhandedly creepy and violent as Macbeth's murderously faithful servant that you wouldn't want any less of him.
You couldn't help but want more, however, of the divinely physical, teasingly perverse witches enacted by Cait Bodenbender, Stephanie Moeller, and Angela Rathman, their slithery collective insanity suggesting a devious serpent with three heads. Andy Curtiss is so stunningly powerful as Macbeth's vengeance-minded Macduff that he practically carries the full weight of its tragedy; this might be Curtiss' most assured and textured portrayal to date. And amidst a heftily populated ensemble (33 performers!) boasting the reliably effective Bob Hanske, Doug Adkins, and Sam Jones, Jake Walker delivers heavily accented verbal slapstick as Shakespeare's pickled Scottish Porter, and for five hysterical minutes, makes you forget that you're actually not attending the high-comedy event of the summer.
Sarah Ade Wallace's Lady Macbeth makes you giggle, too, but only because of how deliciously nasty she is. Her "Out, damned spot!" breakdown is wrenching, yet Wallace is far more frequently thrilling, her malicious wide grin revealing just how much Lady M relishes control over her husband, and the pathetic ease with which he's controlled. Against an adversary/ally this intimidating, and this devastatingly beautiful, poor Macbeth doesn't stand a chance, and portrayer Todd Schwartz - with his popping eyes and explosion of hair - is at his finest when evincing actual empathy for this vain, shallow, deluded leader whose hubris leads to spectacular comeuppance. There are two more chances to catch all of these talents in Genesius Guild's terrifically satisfying Macbeth. Just do it.
Macbeth runs at Lincoln Park (11th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island) through August 9, and more information is available by visiting Genesius.org.