A review of Eugene Ionesco’s play, staged by Ghost Light Theatricals at The Ballard Underground through March 25.
In Eugène Ionesco’s “Macbett,” an absurdist take on Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, absolute power results in absolute corruption. Or is it the other way around?
The Cold War-era satire has a kind of chicken-and-the-egg scenario going on, as a series of casually wicked autocrats grasp for the Scottish throne, slaughtering scores along the way. Are these men made evil by their proximity to power, or does their inherent evilness goad them into a quest for supremacy?
“[He’s] a tyrant, a usurper, a despot, a dictator, a miscreant, an ogre, an ass, a goose — and worse,” says an aggrieved official about the country’s ruler, Archduke Duncan. “The proof is, he’s in power.”
by Eugene Ionesco. Through Saturday, March 25, The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Seattle; $10-$18 (206-395-5458 or ghostlighttheatricals.org).
Say no more.
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Ghost Light Theatricals’ staging of “Macbett,” directed by Emily Harvey, is a bit of a bumpy ride, with performances that often seem to be operating on different planes.
The show opens on an overtly comic note, with two thanes (Jalyn Green and Hannah Day Sweet doing a kind of Abbott-and-Costello routine) plotting a rebellion against Duncan.
From there, the production drifts in and out of that tenor. Physical comedy rarely lands — bits involving mass executions and citizens pretending to be healed of their maladies by Duncan are sloppily deployed — but the escalating absurdities of the dialogue provide a subversive alternate angle to Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Chris Shea stars as Macbett and embraces the character’s inveterate frivolity, pouting and preening all the way to the throne as he first quashes an uprising against Duncan (Matthew Middleton, amusingly thin-skinned), and then orchestrates one of his own. Along the way, he’s egged on by a witch who bears a striking resemblance to the flirtatious Lady Duncan (Madison Jade Jones, liberal with the coquettish affectations).
Ionesco positions Banco, Macbett’s ally-then-enemy, as an analog to Macbett, even giving both characters nearly identical back-to-back monologues recounting the farcically massive body counts they’ve racked up (hundreds executed by firing squad, hundreds of thousands drowned trying to escape, millions who fearfully committed suicide, tens of millions dead of broken hearts).
For Macbett, these thoughts are fleeting — spoken once and then never thought of again. But as Banco, Darien Marcel Upshaw performs the part like he could be in “Macbeth,” full of worry and doubt and soul-searching.
There’s not much room for soul-searching in Ionesco’s world, where essentially every character is venally self-interested or colossally foolish. Or both. In Shea’s performance, there’s a very thin membrane between the latter and the former, as his puppyish obliviousness morphs into power-hungry paranoia almost imperceptibly.
Shea’s accomplished turn acts as a ballast, re-centering a production that has some shaky stagecraft and lending an interesting wrinkle to Ionesco’s mockery. Much has been said about the banality of evil, but here’s a corollary: Evil can be plenty stupid too, and no less destructive because of it.