By Heiner Mí¼ller. Translated by Carl Weber. Directed by Quinn Harris. A Theatre Conspiracy and GasHeart Theatre production at Performance Works on Saturday, May 21. Continues until May 29
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the story of one man’s excessive ambition; in Heiner Mí¼ller’s version, written in East Berlin in 1971, a whole social class is callously indifferent to human life. There are no good guys here: Duncan, the king whom Macbeth murders in order to hasten his own prophesied ascension to the throne, is just as bloodthirsty as his killer, and Macduff, who eventually helps Duncan’s rightful heir reclaim the throne, isn’t above casually mutilating a servant or two.
Mí¼ller is faithful to Shakespeare’s plot but adds layers of carnage. Be warned: there is so much blood spilled in this production that the floor is sticky by the second act.
Director Quinn Harris ingeniously uses contemporary technology to dramatize the script’s preoccupation with image: Macbeth Skypes with his wife; his vision of the ghostly dagger comes courtesy of a hand-held projector; and his throne is a bank of TV screens that video designer Flick Harrison fills with beautiful, horrible projections.
Carl Weber’s translation (this, the play’s world English-language premiere, was spearheaded by GasHeart artistic directors Harris and James Foy) is a masterful blend of Shakespearean text and contemporary idiom, and the actors deliver it with unfailing clarity. Michael Scholar Jr.’s Macbeth seems genuinely troubled by the violence he commits, unlike Anthony F. Ingram’s Duncan, who gives a playful slap to the severed head of a traitor before tossing it away. Josh Drebit’s Banquo is humble—a rare quality here—and wary. David Bloom’s Macduff is smart and cagey, and a coolly stylish Jennifer Mawhinney makes Lady Macbeth’s blood lust seem perfectly reasonable. Dressed in military garb, the trio of Evelyn Chew, Sarah Afful, and Courtney Lancaster seamlessly work the rhythms of the Weird Sisters.
Shawna Picken’s crisp, contemporary costumes are bright, clean spots amid the wall-to-wall gore. Jergus Oprsal’s dramatic lighting often bathes the players in blood, and Emma Hendrix provides a nerve-jangling soundscape of electronic noise.
It’s debatable whether the blood and guts need to be quite so literal—this is heavy going even for folks suckled at the teat of CSI—but Harris creates an admirably coherent and relentlessly visceral, haunting experience. Forty years and a continent away from the particular brutalities that inspired Mí¼ller, his bleak vision of the powerful preying on the powerless is still depressingly relevant.