Greasy Joan Productions, Division 13

Recommended J. Abarbanel, National Public Radio; Jeff Recommended

Director Joanna Settle clearly has an exacting vision; it seems no element escapes her notice in this production of Eugene Ionesco?s dark, absurdist romp through Shakespeare?s Macbeth.

12/26/00 - 1/21/01

Thursday-Saturday 8pm Sunday 5pm

"Director Joanna Settle clearly has an exacting vision; it seems no element escapes her notice in this production of Eugene Ionesco?s dark, absurdist romp through Shakespeare?s Macbeth. On Andrew Lieberman?s sublimely garish set?a severe expanse of wood-grain paneling and featureless carpet that lumbers gracelessly almost into the audience?s lap?the play seems a kind of nightmarish raver party.
The tyrant archduke Duncan is a dissipated, pajama-clad hedonist doted upon by his ultra fey assistant. His wife, a thrift-store dominatrix in mile-high heels, betrays him by conspiring with twin assassins, Macbett and Banquo, who seem pulled from a 1980 new wave clothing catalog. Once Macbett assumes the throne, he?s transformed into a maniacal Vegas performer surrounded by sycophantic minions in white isolation suits and Day-Glo plastic wigs. Visually this Macbett is always interesting, and Settle?s use of the Chopin Theatre?s cavernous space produces more than a few ingenious surprises." Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader

?For the Division 13/Greasy Joan & Co.'s revival of Ionesco's "Macbett," designer Andrew Lieberman has turned the expansive Chopin Theatre into something akin to an absurdist shooting range.
Deep trenches run across the playing area (which is made of the kind of wooden paneling one associates with a dated suburban basement) allowing performers to pop up and down like unwitting targets for a viewer's gun.
And because she's a director who loves to play around with sudden departures and the various other nuances of eclectic post-modernism, director Joanna Settle here behaves like a creative kid set loose in a room full of neat toys and other kids.
Remarkably enough, it all works quite well.
Penned late in his career in 1972, Ionesco's caricature of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is not the Romanian absurdist's deepest play and, as a result, it's not done all that often. Even Ionesco's greatest fans tend to acknowledge that the so-called father of absurdism struggled to master the demands of the full-length play.
To appreciate this show, you need to know the original, since "Macbett" parallels the dramatic action almost in its entirety ("Macbett" has been accurately described as a jazz riff on "Macbeth"). But in Ionesco's hands, the characters of the tragedy are victims of fate or circumstance but hubris-filled idiots who screw up their own lives.
In this version of the Scottish play, the predictions of the witches (and what were they ever about anyway?) really do come true and Macbettis crowned king. Only there are, well, problems. Ionesco was a dab hand at layering one conspiracy theory on top of another until paranoia has pretty much taken over whatever fantastical world he has posited.
When you see "Macbett," it's generally in the 1973 translation by Charles Maarowitz, but this production features a new and clever adaptation by Greasy Joan's Gavin Witt (who also serves as the dramaturg at the Northlight Theatre). Witt's work is quite strong-- it's full of smart, funny touches and gives the affair some much- needed freshness and vitality.
Settle tends to work best with this kind of intellectually comic script. Anchored by the original clear narrative, she's able to play with anachronisms and visual tricks to her heart's content and this show is full of interest and amusement, even though the running time comes close to three hours.
This new collaboration between Division 13 (formerly Thirteenth Tribe) and Greasy Joan looks like a blessing for both troupes. Division 13's performers like Katie Taber, who plays Lady Macbett and Anne DeAcetis (who plays several parts) tends to have a lighter, edgier touch than the Greasy Joan classicists. Then again, Witt's dramaturgical surefootedness keeps Settle on a firmer footing where storytelling is concerned.? Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune December 13, 2000

?Unfortunately, the cumulative result of all this spectacle is to render live actors unnecessary. Terry Hamilton and James Foster?playing, respectively, Macbett and Banco?do an admirable job of pretending it doesn?t, making the most of Gavin Witt?s fresh and articulate translation of Ionesco?s antiwar diatribe, when not eclipsed by Joanna Settle?s choreography. This latter feature, however, begins to run out of steam about midway through into the show?s three-hour running time." Mary Shen Barnidge, Windy City

?After the largely negative critical reaction to Thirteenth Tribe?s (now Division 13 Productions) How To Be Sawed In Half, I was very curious to see how director Joanna Settle would handle Ionesco?s Macbett. This re-telling of the Macbeth story, in co-production with greasy joan & co., has received a new translation from Gavin Witt and tells roughly the same story as Shakespeare?s play, though it starts earlier in the proceedings.
Joanna Settle succeeds in creating some truly arresting stage pictures, assisted by an innovative set by Andrew Lieberman. The depth of the Chopin and the trenches cut in the stage are used to good effect, particularly in the first act when a war rages in the background. She also attains a high degree of precision from her cast who move through some extremely specific physical moments and relationships.
The strong stage pictures don?t always add up to strong storytelling, however. This is a long show. According to the posted times in the lobby, Macbett runs 3:04 including two intermissions. There?s just not enough story here to justify so much time, and the length is exacerbated by some long transitions between scenes that don?t always seem necessary. The actors, for the most part, fail to fill out their characters in any way whatsoever. Either Settle prevented the actors from creating those personas, or the actors were not capable of it. Finally, some of the aforementioned physical business seems layered on top of the story. The end result ranges from arresting to tedious, with too much time?particularly later in the play?spent towards tedious.? Keven Heckman, Performink December 22, 2000

DARK & ABSURD: greasy joan & co. and Division 13 Productions team up to stage Gavin Witt's new English translation of Eugene Ionesco's Macbett. Set in a dark, quirky landscape, it is "an absurd and inspired rewrite of Shakespeare's Scottish play," said director Joanna Settle. "It offers a rare view into Ionesco's genius, his humor and his politics." The play, seldom produced since its opening in 1972, juxtaposes serious events with the author's signature comedic style.? Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times Dec 1, 2000

Eugene Ionesco with translation by Gavin Witt

J. Settle

Eve Alexander, Aaron Cedolia, Anne DeAcetis, David Divita, Keith Eric Davis, James Foster, Tom Groenwald, Terry Hamilton, Warren Jackson, Thomas Jones, Alfred Kemp, Matthew Krause, Tanera Marshall, Eamon McDonagh, Katie Taber, Justin Wade

Alex Blunt, Ruth Helms, Heather Chappell, Kathy Van Zwoll, Andrew Lieberman, Stacy Ellen Rich, Gwen Grossman, Mike Frank, Andre Pluess

Tags: Theater, Old Europe, 2001