American soldiers torture Iraqi prisoners in the same prison Saddam Hussein tortured thousands of his own people. During the same press conference in which he acknowledges these war crimes, President Bush has the nerve to boast of getting rid of Baathist torture chambers. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's cronies still sit in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia plotting their next attacks on the United States, and we still haven't found those damned weapons of mass destruction.
Has the world gone nuts? Yes, it has. By comparison, the Tricklock Company's production of Eugene Ionesco's Macbett, directed by Joe Feldman, is relatively sensible, which is to say it isn't very sensible at all.
Sensible or not, this twisted pretzel of classic absurdist theater is quite timely. Ionesco's examination of the cyclical nature of political corruption is a polished lens through which we can view the state of our world more clearly. The vision it reveals is troubling, to say the least. Yet this weird spoof of Shakespeare's Macbeth contains some scathingly funny black humor, so at least you'll get a few laughs out of it. Just don't expect to be consoled.
The play begins with two goofy mustached noblemen, Candor (Kristin de la O) and Glamiss (Kate Schroeder), rebelling against the prissy Archduke Duncan (John Baugh). Duncan's two generals, Macbett (Joe Pesce) and Banco (Chad Brummett), usher out onto the battlefield, killing tens of thousands of members of the rebel army and vanquishing Candor and Glamiss.
In payment for their heroic service, Duncan promises land, titles and cash to his two loyal generals, but as soon as the rebel leaders are slain he quickly reneges on the deal. A couple of witches appear before Macbett to predict that he will become king. Although proud of his loyalty to Duncan, he wrestles with the hags of his mind, eventually succumbing to his profound lust for both power and Duncan's sexy, sadistic ball-buster of a wife, Lady Duncan (Kerry Morrigan).
Macbett then plots with Banco and Lady Duncan to assassinate the archduke and crown himself king. After killing off Duncan, Banco's trust in Macbett begins to fade, so Macbett decides to kill his friend as well. Haunted by the ghosts of those he's murdered and eager to maintain his tenuous grip on power, Macbett soon learns that Lady Duncan isn't at all what she seems.
This Tricklock production is weird, loud, violent and highly stylized. Feldman directs each member of his cast to move around the stage like a marionette jerked around by the wires of a defective conscience. The make-up, especially on Macbett and Banco, is downright hallucinogenic, and the costuming looks like it was pulled straight from the closet of Lewis Carroll's fevered imagination. An accordion motif running throughout the play gives Macbett the added air of a carnival gone horribly, horribly awry.
All this just adds to the perverted fun. The cast, especially the primary Tricklock members, do the material justice. Schroeder and de la O play the rebel noblemen like Chaplin-esque clowns, making hilarious exaggerated facial expressions and jabbering out their lines with minimal coherence. As the amorphous Lady Duncan, Morrigan injects a balls-out venomous eroticism into the show that caused a couple elderly ladies in the packed theater to scowl in disapproval but made every boy in the audience—and quite a few girls—very, very pleased.
Pesce as Macbett and Brummett as Banco have a seething, tense rapport with each other on stage. They're the evil clowns of your worst nightmares, but they still somehow manage to make you giggle.
The themes of the play, of course, are no laughing matter. Every character in Macbett, without exception, is fueled by greed, egotism and a blind lust for power. In this environment, it doesn't make any difference, in a moral sense, who kills who. Every yammering, vindictive character is merely a warm body waiting in terror for the knife.
Filled to the brim with gore, betrayal, lust and darkness, Shakespeare's masterpiece at least ends on a hopeful note. Ionesco's theatrical absurdity does not. Does Macbett accurately portray human nature? Can we humans possibly be that despicable? Of course not, but observing the endless global cycle of carnage, chicanery and stupidity might almost make you believe it.