“Mania: An abnormally elated mental state, typically characterized by feelings of euphoria, lack of inhibitions, racing thoughts, diminished need for sleep, talkativeness, risk taking, and irritability. In extreme cases, mania can induce hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.”
To the uninitiated, Zombie Joe’s Blood of Macbeth may look like merely a mad, manic assault on the senses, but there’s a method to director Josh T. Ryan’s madness. His version of the Scottish play (co-written with producer Zombie Joe) purposely shreds Shakespeare’s tale into a ferocious – and often quite visceral – deconstruction that pays tribute to classical theatre forms like Artaud, Japanese Kabuki and Noh Theatre, the Greeks, Beckett, George Lucas, and even the Marx Brothers. Scenes shift so quickly that there’s little time to process what happens in one scene before you’re two steps into the next, and that’s exactly what Ryan intends. The result is renegade Shakespeare, brilliantly alive, full of bold choices and a brash in-your-face sensibility that makes you feel the action rather than intellectualize it.
Six wild-eyed men with 100 per cent commitment to their intentions take on the bloody tragedy dressed as inmates of some strange unnamed place and time. Is it the future? A mental ward? Is it happening in one man’s mind or is it happening at all? Following a short prologue by a masked figure (Beth Ricketson) addressing us as ‘Sector 7,’ we are loudly thrust into the execution of the first victim. The scene is primal, filled with disturbing intensity as the body is beaten and desecrated. At the end of it, King Duncan (a powerfully focused and dangerous Amir Khalighi) assumes the crown and amazes his men by producing fire in the form of a zippo lighter. The savagery of his own death later during his daily Islamic call to prayer hearkens back to the brutality of this opening scene.
Macbeth (Michael Blomgren) throws a child’s fit when he is passed over by Duncan in favor of Macduff (Steve Madar) and though Duncan bestows a symbolic red tie upon him in praise of the warrior’s valiant deeds, the damage is done. Macbeth sets out with his Captain (Roger Weiss) to steal the throne for himself, seduced by the words of the seven Twisted Sisters. These salacious sirens surround Macbeth as an ever-present reminder of the seductive eroticism of power and fame. They are a writhing, hissing mass of bare limbs and twisted angles clothed in hard-edged pussycat doll attire that will not be ignored.
Blomgren is a charismatic hero/anti-hero who gives a riveting performance as both Macbeth and his counterpart, Lady M. Wearing a long white bride of Frankenstein gown he chooses a woman’s tiara over a masculine crown and consorts with his Geisha Murderer (Chelsea Kurtz) to kill Banquo (Willy Romano-Pugh), whom she does successfully, and Fleance (David Wyn Harris) who escapes. Kurtz’ choreographed feature is a stylistic highlight and an artful contrast for the testosterone-driven killings that happen prior to her appearance. Watching Blomgren is hypnotic.
Birnam Wood dances, the MTV astronaut appears, and Macduff’s slow-motion escape by flashlight are but a few of the highly theatrical sequences and pop-culture nods within the approximately one hour play. The final battle scene is staged as a wild and crazy WWE fight-to-the-finish with Fleance, the idiot, being crowned king. Harris’ last isolated moments as Fleance bring the story full circle, and after all the explosiveness of the preceding hour, Macbeth’s famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is quietly delivered by one of the sisters (Lizzie Bassett) as a startling epilogue. The stillness is so loud it is deafening.
Blood of Macbeth is not for the faint of heart. It pokes you slyly with its violence to see if you’re paying attention even as it lulls you into submission with the delicate French melody “A la claire fontaine.” It taunts you with its muscularity and laughs at itself before you do. And in the tightly contained space of Zombie Joe’s black box it is an uninhibited world of madness that will haunt you for days.
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Blood of Macbeth: Saturdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 3pm through August 19 (now extended Friday nights at 8:30 pm through Sept. 28) at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, 91601. For reservations call 818-202-4120 www.ZombieJoes.com
Photos by Zombie Joe
1. Men from left: Steve Madar (Macduff), Willy Romano-Pugh (Banquo), David Wyn Harris (Fleance), Amir Khalighi (Duncan), Michael Blomgren (Macbeth), and Roger Weiss (The Captain).
2. Michael Blomgren (Macbeth) with the Twisted Sisters: Helen Udy, Jacqueline Baxter, Lizzie Bassett, Lauren Velasco, Ren Harris, Beth Ricketson, Chelsea Kurtz (The Murderer)
3. Michael Blomgren as Macbeth