Monday, July 16, 2012

ZJU's "Blood For Macbeth" (review)

Michael Blomgren as Macbeth
This marks my fourth review of a play performed at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, the most recent Hamlet which premiered last week.

Blood of Macbeth opened this past weekend and makes for quite a different experience.  First and foremost, this is not a straightforward production of Shakespeare's play.  Rather, we get a surreal adaptation.  Literally, one dives into the unconscious, as if visiting someone's mind as they dream of Macbeth.  Images and ideas bleed into one another, with not-quite a stream of consciousness flow.  Not quite.

At the very start we discover what kind of world we'll be viewing.  Men in what look like prison (or perhaps asylum) garb beat a mannequin savagely.  Is this supposed to be a man.  Such I assumed.  Now that I think on it, though--was it?  Makes just as much sense to assault such an 'idol' or 'puppet' or 'symbol' as a person.  Even what seems like a (symbolic?) rape of the fallen figure makes a kind of sense.  Perfectly in keeping with the original, even.  Much of Shakespeare's plays that deal with royalty are about power.  Who has it, how did they get it, in which ways they might wield it, exactly who and why they lose it.  Power in this case symbolized in loads of ways.  By fire.  By the right to stand atop a blood-red box.  Mostly by obedience from others.  Also, by how others tolerate even welcome extreme behavior.

Soon another factor makes its appearance.  Or their appearance I should say.  The witches, called "the weird sisters" in the original text.  Far more than three this time.  And here we find a pattern worthy of note.  Not only are these witches the veritable Greek Chorus in terms of the play, but as well the only female characters to be found.

That's right.  No Lady Macbeth.  Or, more precisely, both Macbeth's have been combined into one character.  Michael Blomgren seems to be having a blast as a monarch whose real power derives from the sponsorship of the female side of the world.  When he's enthroned as King, for example, the men offer Macbeth a heavy masculine crown.  But the weird sisters (whom the men usually cannot see) offer a lovely little tiara.

He choose the tiara.  Yeah, 'tis hilarious.  But also makes perfect sense.  This Macbeth rules as both both King and Queen.

The bizarre resemblance to The Joker fits as well.  But that might be coincidence.

Either way, this souped up frenzy of a show doesn't really allow you time to think and try to figure stuff out.  Director Josh T. Ryan keeps the play going like a roller coaster, the gags and dreamlike digs more or less constant.  Interestingly (and I think tellingly) only one female cast member is really a character. Chelsea Kurtz portrays the Murderer, as something akin to a Geisha and an Indonesian dancer (the hand gestures seemed to echo such anyway).  She is the one who kills Banquo, not in the straightforward slaughter of the men, but by temptation and trickery.  For the record, she's funny.  The smile she effects says worlds about how this Murderer likes her job, gloats over how Banquo will die at her hand, because she knows things.  Things no one is supposed to know, but of course someone nearly always does.

Not for everyone, to be sure.  But among other things this production makes one of the best pieces of performance art I've seen in a long while.

Blood for Macbeth plays Saturdays @ 8:30pm and Sundays @ 3pm July 14-August 19, 2012 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood  (818) 202-4120

All photos courtesy of Zombie Joe

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