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Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Kabuki Lady Macbeth, conceived and directed by Shozo Sato, with original dramatic verse written by Karen Sunde, based on Shakespeare's story. Macbeth (Michael F. Goldberg-left) and Macduff (Anthony Starke-right) engage in a decisive battle. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow


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Our thanks to Hedy Weiss and Tom Williams for permission to post their reviews.

Kabuki 'Macbeth' has everything going for it

March 21, 2005

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.

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.

When: Through May 1
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Tickets: $28 - $48
Call: (312) 595-5600

Review by Hedy Weiss, Theater Critic, Chicago Sun-Times (Courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times)

Kabuki Lady MacBeth

March 22, 2005

BY TOM WILLIAMS, Talk Theater Radio Station

Shozo Sato, acknowledged Kabuki and Zen Master, has created a stunning, richly artistic and completely theatrical treat. Kabuki Lady Macbeth, written by Karen Sunde, is a triumph! Blending Shakespeare with Kabuki with hints of Zen philosophy creates a wonder motif for storytelling.

To appreciate this show, it is important to read the program where director Sato’s notes will introduce the concept of the work. In Michael F. Goldberg’s notes, “KABUKI is defined as the composite of three words: KA = meaning music and song; BU = meaning dance (movement); KI = meaning acting.” Add the sing-song pitch of the voice and the “mie” (pose), the short steps of the women and the spread-legged, semi-crouched walk by the men and Kabuki presents quite a classical Japanese art form.

Karen Sunde has added original dramatic verse in her interpretation of The Bard’s dark tragedy with focus on Lady Macbeth’s journey, her desire and destiny to become queen. This show is easily to follow, understandable and totally captivating.

Kabuki Lady Macbeth is a quite stylized visual and audio treat that demands your full attention. It delivers many magnificent moments from the exquisite, vibrant classical Japanese costumes to the unique movements to the amazing poses to the interesting verbal rhythms. With brilliant lighting by Michael Rourke, colorful screen set designs by Katherine Ross and effective sound design by Lindsay Jones, Kabuki Lady Macbeth flows flawlessly.

The non-Japanese cast is lead by Barbara Robertson as Lady Macbeth. Robertson is so effective she dominates the stage with her poses, pulsating eye movements and her stylized speech patterns that exude femininity and dominance in tune with oriental women. Robertson demonstrates her amazing talents.

Peggy Roeder, as the Lady-in-Waiting, Duncan and the Assassin, added a disciplined effort that worked while Michael F. Goldberg’s Macbeth exuded the Samurai warrior persona and Anthony Starke, as Macduff, offered excellent moments.

But the three Witches, who acted as narrators and chorus, gave an effective structure and cohesiveness that made the story flow. Laura T. Fisher, George Keating and Elizabeth Laidlaw were brilliant as the Witches. Their movement, speech, poses, hand and arm gestures all flowed together to give them a collective ‘one-ness’ that was a joy to watch. These three talents held the show together.

Kabuki Lady Macbeth was my first kabuki experience and I can’t wait to see this intoxicating theatrical form again. The polished production is a tribute to Sato’s vision and the craftsmanship of the cast. For those who relish unique, stylized theatre, Kabuki Lady Macbeth will be a feast.

Highly Recommended
Tom Williams
Tom99@chicagocritic.com for comments
Talk Theatre radio station
March 22, 2005
Review courtesy of Tom Williams http://chicagocritic.com/html/about_us.html

'Kabuki Lady Macbeth' a stunning twist on Shakespeare

Daily Southtown Theater Critic
May 6, 2005

When three witches take center stage to brew their brand of magical trouble, it feels like familiar territory.

That bubbling, boiling scene of dangerous incantations and predictive menace has always preceded the Shakespearean tale of "Macbeth."


This time, though, the trio doesn't cackle in Western-style dialogue. Instead, the three dark-clad figures speak and gesture in the Japanese Kabuki style, which makes "Kabuki Lady Macbeth," playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a unique and fascinating experience.

Ingeniously conceived, directed and designed by Shozo Sato with Karen Sunde's script, this lustrous jewel of a show adapts Shakespeare's tale, but presents it from an Asian perspective using stylized movements and highly inflected dialogue.

It's easy to see the similarities between Shakespeare's 17th century tragedy of "Macbeth" and "Kabuki Lady Macbeth." The Kabuki version follows the basic story on the corrupting effect of ambition in which Macbeth is pushed to murder by his wife's greed. Since the tale is told from an Eastern point of view, though, Macbeth kills the shogun instead of the Scottish king.

Still, there are major differences between typical Shakespearean fare and this stunning Kabuki production. Here, movement is everything and everywhere expressive, as are the high-pitched vocal inflections and facial expressions of its performers.

This production also features breathtaking imagery, such as the red-blood ribbons that punctuate the stabbing death of the Shogun, and the seductive manner in which Lady Macbeth slinks her body around her husband as she incites him to maddening violence.

With its lush kimono costuming, its Japanese-painted screens and its velvet-black backdrop, this lavish presentation is beautiful to behold. Yet the show is truly mesmerizing because of its extraordinary performances.

As the needy Lady Macbeth, Barbara Robertson is a wonder. Whether she's manipulating Macbeth with feminine wiles or mounting his back in desperate rage, Robertson's exquisite portrayal is unforgettable.

As Macbeth, the samurai warrior who would be shogun, Michael F. Goldberg is also superb, especially in the expressive way he tilts his head in response to his wife's taunts and his cross-eyed rage in the climactic murder scene.

Complementing those exceptional leads are Anthony Starke, who is gripping as Macduff; Peggy Roeder as Duncan; Laura T. Fisher, George Keating and Elizabeth Laidlaw as the doomsayer witches; and Gregor Mortis, the Ki Player, who accompanies the Kabuki action with the sound of wood-block underscoring.

"Kabuki Lady Macbeth" marks another triumphant achievement for Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It's also the best Kabuki theater I have ever witnessed.

Review by Betty Mohr, reprinted courtesy of the Daily Southtown http://www.dailysouthtown.com


--reviewed by Venus Zarris
Gay Chicago Magazine - Issue 05-13

Years ago, I had a parakeet named Queeter. He was brilliant as budgies go. He could talk, dance on a harmonica while it was being played, make sweet love to any finger on your hand and charm the socks off of anyone. One night I decided to take Queeter for a joy ride. He sat on my shoulder while we drove down a street lit with multicolored signs and flashing traffic lights.

When a parakeet is highly stressed, it often holds its wings out and pants, resembling an eagle having a panic attack. This was the position that Queeter assumed during his wild ride. It was so funny that my lover and I spontaneously made up a silly song. The lyrics went something like; "Queeter is having a psychedelic nightmare! Red Light! Green Light! Yellow! K-mart! White Hen! 7-11, oh, nooooo!"

Yes, we were high. And despite the trauma, Queeter was thankfully none the worse for wear after his little "hell drive." I have often wondered what it was like for this tiny bird with an itsy bitsy brain to process so much bright, loud, bazaar and colorful stimulation.

Tonight, I was Queeter ... minus the fear and hyperventilating eagle pose.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of "Kabuki Lady Macbeth" is one of the most stimulating experiences one can hope to have. Add to that the breathtaking eye level view of the Ferris wheel and backdrop of the city at night when you enter the lobby, and you are about on the same level as a budgie quickly traveling through an unfamiliar yet amazing world.

Lavish is an extreme understatement for this extraordinary production with staging, choreography, costumes, lighting, choral work, make-up, acting and sound design beyond your wildest dreams of fluid movement, color and storytelling. The variations in vocal pitch and tone alone transport you to a foreign reality. This is an unearthly atmospheric spectacle of provocative imagination. From the haunting opening narration delivered by the three magically exhilarating witches to the closing bloodbath of fantastical carnage, this play will have you riveted. The muscles around your eyes might even be sore from stretching them open as wide as possible, so as not to miss a single morsel of the visual delights.

The entire cast is wonderful. It is hard for anyone to stand out in a production so invigorating, but Elizabeth Laidlaw, Peggy Roeder and Anthony Starke are particularly engaging, as well as Barbara Robertson in the title role.

Of all of the incredible technical elements, the uncredited costume design was the most astonishing. But it is the conception and direction of Shozo Sato that breaths otherworldly enchantment into Karen Sunde's great script based on Shakespeare's original.

Macbeth is gloriously victorious in battle. Lady Macbeth is infused with a maniacal lust for power by the witches and passes this on to her husband. He kills the Shogun, taking his place, and a murderous paranoid reign ensues, laying waste to the family of Macduff. He seeks justice and the madness comes full circle.

The only flaw with the production, and it is slight, is the off-synched timing of the some of the actors with the wooden blocks that beat out the pulse of much of the action. This device would be so much more powerful if the syncopation was more accurate. But this fault is almost undetectable in the midst of so much wonderment.

Between reality TV and crime shows based on actual events, the formula for standard entertainment has reached the apex of stale. Wisecracking cops and layers or wisecracking "regular" people in some sort of humiliating competition are handed out as our k-ration for amusement. Compared to this breathtaking achievement, they are like wet white bread. "Kabuki Lady Macbeth" sets the standard for completely mesmerizing stylized enthrallment with its refreshing disregard for realism. We left the theater feeling like excited little children, imagining every genre of performance reinterpreted through the marvelous canon of Kabuki. (****)

("Kabuki Lady Macbeth" runs through May 1 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. 312-595-5600.)

Used by permission of Gay Chicago Magazine. www.gaychicagomagazine.com

Our very own Nightwing has also reviewed this production. Nightwing's Review

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