I passed on the all-nude Macbeth that played in Arlington last year, but I won’t be missing Teller’s production. Teller, the usually silent half of Penn and Teller, is bringing gory illusion to the play:
Years of close reading, of seeing productions and screen versions that he’s sometimes tolerated but mostly loathed — “Hate is one of the best fuels for artistic endeavor” — have led Teller to an epiphany or two. An example: “Macbeth” is a supernatural horror thriller. “I’ve begun to think that one of its themes is a lack of understanding about where reality leaves off and your own internal perceptions begin,” he said. “The play is full of allusions to hallucinations. Macbeth has hallucinations. Mrs. Macbeth has hallucinations.
“I thought it might be a very interesting idea to do a production in which all the magic stuff fooled audiences so that they’d be in the exact same position as Macbeth. I know it’s a pretty cerebral idea, the idea that we’re trying to see what it’s like to be Macbeth. But,” he added with palpable delight, “where it leads you is some very weird places.”
“Macbeth,” as envisioned by Teller, is not, as in many versions, a downer with a glum title character. “I just think that pushes things in the wrong direction,” he said. The right direction? “It’s a thrill ride,” he said. “The play was written essentially to make James I happy, and he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed in witchcraft. So ‘Macbeth’ is a wonderful paranoid schizophrenic fantasy and everyone is having a jolly good fiendish time. If there’s one thing we’ll try not to miss is how much fun this play is.”
After opening in New Jersey, the play will come to DC’s Folger theater starting in February.