Folger Elizabethan Theatre Washington, D.C.

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All productions of Macbeth start with a trio of witches, but this one is infused with genuine magic, said Paul Harris in Variety. By its end, the audience has seen characters vanish and reappear, disembodied heads prophesy doom, and “Macbeth’s dagger ‘float’ in mid-air and drip with blood.” That’s because the usual gloom and gore of Shakespeare’s tragedy are supplemented by “deliciously creepy tricks, conjured by the magician Teller, the silent half of Penn & Teller.” Another striking illusion helps transform one of the drama’s best-known scenes: the murderous Lady Macbeth struggling to remove a spot of bloody evidence from her hand. She’s really struggling with her conscience, as Teller makes clear: “Splotches of bright red blood appear on the white nightgown of actress Kate Eastwood Norris, until the character is nearly drenched in the incriminating fluid.”

“Where Shakespeare is concerned, Teller is a true believer,” said Peter Marks in The Washington Post. His special effects never distract from the action but are “adapted for the play and integrated in a thoughtful, thoroughly reverent way.” Yet even without its magic moments, this Macbeth would be notable. Teller and his co-director, Aaron Posner, have judiciously eliminated or reordered various parts of Shakespeare’s text, making dramatic sense of the playwright’s often knotty plot. Ian Merrill Peakes delivers the key performance as an in-over-his-head Macbeth, while Norris’ Lady Macbeth is a bundle of nerves. The two develop, convincingly and inexorably, from opportunists to power-obsessed tyrants.

This production’s “flamboyant theatricality is matched by its colloquial directness,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. Indeed,

its best moments aren’t Teller’s elaborate illusions but more subtle details. When Macbeth steps onstage following a murder, “we see a big red handprint on his shirt, a touch that might have been lifted from a police report.” Later, when he discovers his wife has committed suicide, Macbeth grabs the messenger’s “bloody hand and smears her gore on his cheek.” Dozens of breathtaking touches like these make this Macbeth “the perfect Shakespeare for those who’ve never seen” Shakespeare before—and

a can’t-miss evening for the rest of us.

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