Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

St. Louis Shakespeare
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of Suspended and Arcadia

Ben Ritchie
Photo by John Lamb
It may sound strange, but this Macbeth is actually a lot of fun.

Ben Ritchie, long the king of understatement on local stages, starts off quietly enough here in the title role under the direction of Suki Peters. But by the time Banquo's ghost has come and gone, Mr. Ritchie has created a swashbuckling performance with increasingly fiery rages, and even some unexpected acrobatics. And (when a "dagger" appears before him) his rock-solid powers of credibility and understatement come in pretty handy, too. Well played, Mr. Ritchie; you caught me completely by surprise.

But as I sat there before the show, considering the prospect of a chilly, Bergmanesque Scot, I was greatly relieved to see Michelle Hand would be playing his Lady Macbeth. She's always great, and when the moment came, I even stopped taking notes to just to soak-up her mesmerizing nightmare scene, as the actress silently, hypnotically washed her guilty hands.

But, "fun"?

This Macbeth has an almost Coen brothers (or Tarantino-esque) character-wit to it, in which Macduff transforms into a near-superhero: a fearsome vixen (Maggie Wininger) in skin-tight, black fighting gear and blood red heels (costumes by JC Krajicek). And then there's a sort of background character (Dustin Allison as Lennox) who unselfconsciously munches snacks throughout his scenes, adding a strange, funny directorial flourish to the usual exposition—and one which keeps the play's feet firmly planted on the (dangerously shifting) ground.

The witches come and go in seeming meekness in servants' guises, which adds a dose of almost invisible fiendishness. And when they're alone in the forest, they have a fantastic "disappearance" after their first scene with Macbeth. Chuck Brinkley turns the Porter's speech into a very nice series of "knock-knock" jokes. And much later, Hecate (Wendy Farmer), in her fury, is operatically splendid towering over it all, smashing forest demons like ninepins.

But of course it all hangs on the relationships. And those are beautifully handled and fleshed out under Ms. Peters' direction: Macbeth's ties to Banquo (Maxwell Knocke) heighten the eventual anguish of the latter's murder; and perhaps most importantly, this Lady Macbeth (Ms. Hand) is so close to her husband that she never has to resort to Shatnerian madness to push him forward and, needless to say, off the edge.

It's a show that's usually produced once or twice a year, because it's so good—wags will say it's a crowd pleaser, for all the blood and madness. Historians tell us it became a "cursed" play because (time and again) it was the last-ditch, sure-fire hit any failing theater company could put on for very little money, just as it was all crashing down for them. But even today, critics have been known to groan in dismay on their way to The Scottish Play, just out of repetition.

And yet it's never the same show twice—sometimes it's tricked-up beyond recognition with special effects, and sometimes it's stripped-down to just three people in the park, running around frantically, focusing entirely on the great words and action. This newest Macbeth is visually interesting and aurally inspired; right down the middle for production values; surprisingly creative in some great new ways; and boasting an unexpectedly stylish leading man.

Through October 16, 2016, at the Ivory Theater, 7620 Michigan Ave. For more information visit

Cast (in order of appearance)
Witch 1/Messenger: Elizabeth Knocke
Witch 2/Servant: Taleesha Caturah
Witch 3/Seyton, an officer: Katie Robinson
Duncan, King of Scotland: Kim Curlee
Malcom, Duncan's son: Eric Lindsey
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis: Ben Ritchie
Lady Macbeth, his wife: Michelle Hand
Banquo, Banquo, Thane of Lochaber: Maxwell Knocke
Fleance, Banquo's son: Alex Bollini
Macduff, Thane of Fife: Maggie Wininger
Hecate/Lady Macduff: Wendy Farmer
Macduff Boy 1: Dylan James
Macduff Boy 2: Riley James
Macduff Girl: Morgan Murphy
Thane of Ross: Scott McDonald
Thane of Lennox: Dustin Allison
Thane of Angus/Murderer: Shane Signorino
Siward, Earl of Northumberland/Sergeant in Duncan's army: Dan McGee
Yong Siward, his son/Murderer: Michael Pierce
Porter/Doctor: Chuck Brinkley
Gentlewoman: Mara Bollini

Artistic and Technical Personnel
Director: Suki Peters
Text Coach/Script Adaptor: John Wolbers
Set Designer/Technical Director: Chuck Winning
Costume Designer: JC Krajicek
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Sound Designer: Ted Drury
Fight Director: Erik Kuhn
Fight Captain: Michael Pierce
Movement Coach: Sarah Anne Patz
Makeup FX: Aaron AuBuchon
Stage Manager: Abby Lampe
Production Manager: Morgan Maul-Smith
Production Assistant: Liz Henning
Assistant Stage Manager: Mara Bollini
Scenic Painter: Jason Townes
Promo Photos: Autumn Rinaldi

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