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"Kabuki meets Shakespeare for magical Macbeth!"          

Chicago Tribune


"Dazzling Kabuki version of 'Macbeth' has everything going for it"


"A dazzling cultural hybrid, set to a beautifully distilled haiku-like script…a visual, physical and aural feast…"


"Sunde's script is very much about Lady Macbeth's loneliness and suppressed ambition as a woman in her society."                                       Chicago Sun-Times


From the Chicago Sun-Times March 21, 2005
Dazzling Kabuki version of 'Macbeth' has everything going for it
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Critic

Perhaps because it's so rooted in primal emotions and rash behavior, Shakespeare's "Macbeth" lends itself particularly well to extreme and exotic interpretations. Among the best versions I've seen: one by a South African company that charged it with a sense of tribal warfare, and Chicago's own "500 Clown Macbeth," which turned it into a series of acrobatic stunts driven by an almost comic quest for power.

Now, I can add to that list "Kabuki Lady Macbeth," which opened Friday at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs. Director-designer Shozo Sato's dazzling cultural hybrid, set to a beautifully distilled haiku-like script by Karen Sunde that follows Shakespeare's script but alters its language and infuses it with aspects of Eastern philosophy, is a fascinating experiment. In melding the intensely stylized techniques of Japanese Kabuki theater with the tale of a mid-level soldier driven to murderous ambition by his status-hungry wife, both Eastern and Western approaches to the stage come into sharper relief and their similarities become as vivid as their differences. The production is a visual, physical and aural feast. It also is a triumph for Barbara Robertson, whose breathtaking, masterfully controlled performance as Lady Macbeth will linger in your memory.

THEATER REVIEW 'KABUKI LADY MACBETH' HIGHLY RECOMMENDED When: Through May 1 Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier 

Kabuki uses movement -- whether for a swoon of passion or a defiant act of aggression -- as its principal mode of expression. And Sato's production falls somewhere between a ballet and a martial arts film. Every tilt of the head, every shift of the eyes, every flick of a fan or positioning of a dagger is worth a page of text. Kabuki also depends heavily on voice -- the pitch, tempo and inflection of nearly every word is of such crucial importance that the whole thing often seems to be a form of opera.

The narrative, though deftly pared down, captures all the essential points: Macbeth (finely played by Michael F. Goldberg) is a triumphant samurai who, after a great battle, finds himself just steps from the all-powerful position of shogun. His wife uses all her wiles to goad him on to the top, which, of course, involves the murder of those standing in his way (Sunde's script is very much about Lady Macbeth's loneliness and suppressed ambition as a woman in her society). But once Macbeth does reach the pinnacle, guilt and paranoia quickly devour both him and his wife. She goes mad (in a scene in which Robertson is brilliant, just as she is in the murderous rampage sequence, where she clings to Macbeth's back like a poisonous snake), and Macbeth is ultimately undone as well.

"Macbeth's" sublime visual feast keeps you mesmerized. Katherine Ross' sets are gorgeous -- a series of Japanese folding screens that evoke the mood and passage of time, with a dense cluster of willow trees to suggest the camouflage of Shakespeare's Birnam Wood in the final battle scene. And watch the parade of museum-quality kimonos, or the effect in which Duncan (a vivid Peggy Roeder), a major impediment to Macbeth's ascension, is fatally wounded and red leaves spread like bloodstains over his chest.

The three witches (Laura T. Fisher, George Keating and Elizabeth Laidlaw) are on hand, too, chiding the characters and ultimately (in a very Zen manner) underscoring the need for moderation in life. They are joined by the excellent Anthony Starke (Macduff and other roles), Ben Dicke, Jesse Grotholson and Elizabeth Tanner (the black-suited Kokens, who make everything run smoothly) and by Gregor Mortis, the superb Ki Player whose wood block accompaniment is so crucial to Kabuki.

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company
From the Chicago Tribune
Kabuki meets Shakespeare for magical 'Macbeth'
By Michael Phillips Tribune theater critic

March 20 2005, 4:00 PM CST

The resume of director Shozo Sato tells of a man possessed with a stern, grand theatrical ideal: "Kabuki Medea," "Kabuki Faust," "Kabuki Othello," "Kabuki Macbeth," "Achilles: A Kabuki Play." Sato has staged his amalgamations of Western dramatic literature and centuries-old Japanese theatrical tradition worldwide, often enough in Chicago (especially at Wisdom Bridge Theatre) that Sato once characterized his particular niche as "Illinois Kabuki." Now Sato has gathered together some of his Illinois Kabuki alums along with Kabuki newcomers for "Kabuki Lady Macbeth," which opened Saturday at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's sixth-floor studio space.

The freely adapted text by Karen Sunde refocuses Shakespeare's narrative on the wife of the man who would be Shogun. Barbara Robertson, a well-practiced hand at Sato's Kabuki interpretations, plays "Lady M" opposite another Sato alum, Michael Goldberg, as the doomed striver. The witches bridge the worlds of Shakespeare and Kabuki, stressing the notions of shadow and light, yin and yang. Look at yourself and your loved one, the witches instruct in the opening scene. "It's certain as breath/Here's another Macbeth with his Lady."

Robertson has some lovely moments. After a classically deliberate windup, her masklike head gently tipping this way and that, she exhales a prolonged Kabuki exhale and, in a lower vocal register than expected, she utters Lady M's deadpan first line: "Waiting is not easy."

When the witches manipulate Macbeth's sword, floating it in the air, the visual effect is simple as can be and just right. Played by Laura T. Fisher, George Keating and Elizabeth Laidlaw, these stringy-haired harpies at one point hit the stage in full mournful cry. A second later their cries become a cackle of evil glee, and the audience is made a willing accomplice to the treachery. The witches in "Macbeth" are always fun, of course. The devil's in the details whether the material is Shakespeare, Kabuki or a meeting of the two. The way Laidlaw turns her fingers into slithery instruments of restlessness, you're seeing how such a meeting can fully be inhabited.

Copyright © 2005, The Chicago Tribune

Kabuki Lady Macbeth presents Shakespeare’s story from its heroine’s point of view, exploring her desires and motives. Though witches called Light, Shadow and Destiny lead us through the tale, and warn that balancing light and dark, brave and gentle, is the way to a happy life, they wickedly midwife lady M’s transformation from gentle lady to snake demon.

When Lady M turns her “flesh to hot steel” in order to empower her husband, their passionate relationship and daring ambition enflame the couple to murder the Shogun, who stands in their way. However, Macbeth loses his balance in the crime that makes him Shogun, and the shaken Lady M, unable to enjoy being Lady Shogun, begs their friend Macduff to bring his family to court, so his wife and laughing children can comfort her.

But, Macbeth sends an assassin to kill Macduff’s family, leaving Lady M in shock, playing madly with the severed heads of Macduff’s family, whom she loved. The witches lead in Macduff, whose grief has given him the power to be one with his sword. Lady M, unable to save Macbeth, begs to be killed. The mystical power achieved by purity and honor is lost to Macbeth and won by Macduff as the witches console him: “Rise. Look to the sun. When evil is set loose, it will be someone’s destiny to bleach the earth…”

“Sunde’s script is very much about Lady Macbeth’s loneliness and suppressed ambition as a woman in her society. …a dazzling cultural hybrid, set to a beautifully distilled haiku-like script…a visual, physical and aural feast…”
(Chicago Sun-Times).

“Kabuki meets Shakespeare for magical Macbeth …” (Chicago Tribune)