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Endgame

Playhouse's Macbeth is absurd, addictive, and almost too good to be true.

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Let's talk about something that didn't happen: Playhouse on the Square's guest director Drew Fracher cut the scene in Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy where Hecate, queen of all witches, scolds the Weird Sisters because she wasn't invited to join the "destroy Macbeth" party. Good. The play needs cutting, and Shakespeare didn't write that scene anyway. But imagine, if you will, the character of Hecate played like a female answer to Gary Oldman in True Romance. She's surrounded by piles of cocaine and garbage bags overflowing with weed. She's the top-dog dealer, and she's stalking her leather- and lingerie-clad underlings like an animal. "How did you dare to trade and traffic with Macbeth in riddles and affairs of death," she spits, pulling out a Glock and waving it around like she means business. "And I the mistress of your charms, the great contriver of all harms, was never called to bear my part, or show the glory of our art." Oh, it would have fit so perfectly inside this production. It would have helped certain aspects of this innovative and edgy interpretation of the Bard's darkest tale make a bit more sense. But this is asking for too much, I know. Fracher understands that Macbeth is not a horror fantasy about mere mortals confronting hellish evils. He shows us that it is more than an object lesson about the sins of greed and over-reaching ambition. He sees right through Shakespeare's subtext and hones in on Macbeth's two big problems: addiction and impotence. These are the great motivators that turn a good soldier into a suicidal serial killer within the confines of five acts.

Consider the drunken porter, played here by Michael Detroit as a one-legged war vet in a wheelchair. His topic of choice -- booze -- becomes a sweeping metaphor for the many things (power included) that intoxicate: the things that make a man stand to and stand down, that inflame passion and destroy performance. This throwaway scene is often dismissed as mere comic relief. As it joins the twin afflictions of addiction and impotence in unholy matrimony, it is very likely Shakespeare's money shot.

Consider Macbeth's terse request for a drink immediately following his encounter with Banquo's ghost. Consider that the witches give Macbeth his "first hit" when they tell him he's going to be king, but once he gets that golden crown he can't stop the (presumably) preemptive killing. It is no great leap then to present Shakespeare's tragic hero as a drink-swilling, pill-popping, machine-gun-toting, cocaine-sniffing freak, paranoid, lousy with the booger-sugar, and downright nihilistic. Actions? Consequences? Shit. That is the Macbeth Playhouse delivers with more than a modicum of style. It might even remind you (in a fractured, postmodern sort of way) of a certain white-knuckled president from Texas who could probably really use an eight ball right about now.

"I have no children," says wicked King Macbeth grievously before taking out a contract on his best friend whom certain supernatural sources confirm will sire a noble line of monarchs. Oh, the scepter envy! By play's end he sits upon a stolen wheelchair/throne wearing a kilt, a flak jacket, dark sunglasses, and a beret, looking for all the world like Hamm, the helpless tyrant in Samuel Beckett's Endgame but talking more like Ray Liotta somewhere near the end of Goodfellas. Mac's wife is dead, but he don't care. In this po-mo take on the same-o Shake, he's Jesus' son and daddy is a stone-cold fool. Guest artist David Engel has a bit of trouble working his tongue around some of the play's most famous speeches ("dagger," "tomorrow" etc.), and he can be clumsy with his business. In the end, however, he makes the famously bloodthirsty king as pathetic as he is volatile and terrifying and that's all that really matters.

Mac's imaginary dagger is invisible (again with the impotence shtick, oy!), but Lady Macbeth's hallucinated stains are all too real. "Out, damned spot," she cries from the comfort of a white straitjacket soaked in blood. The implication is that her obsessive hand-washing has made a scabby mess of her palms. It's a powerful image, at uncomfortable odds with the scene Shakespeare actually wrote. Nevertheless, Angela Groeschen's portrayal -- crass, clever, and sexually manipulative -- explodes off the stage in a shower of wicked pheromones.

Director Fracher is a bigwig in the world of fight choreography, and the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff (played to the hilt by an extraordinary Jonathon Lamer) is really something to see: a little fantasy kung-fu, a lot of real-life exhaustion.

There are T's left uncrossed, I's left undotted all over the place in this production. And not all of the actors are up to the task at hand. In spite of a driving, reasonably satanic soundtrack (Ministry? did I hear Ministry?), this Macbeth is choppy, moving in fits and starts. But they are good-looking fits and starts with enough sex, violence, and occult imagery to keep the most ADD teen sufficiently engaged.

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