It is especially significant that all of the characters -- except the title character -- are represented by puppets in Stuffed Puppet Theatre's fascinating production of "Macbeth!"
On the most obvious level, this offers a showcase for a solo tour-de-force performance by puppeteer Neville Tranter. On a deeper level, since Tranter also portrays the power-hungry Scot, it sets up a contrast between human being and puppets -- a contrast that leads to the realization that, in the end, Macbeth has less humanity than the puppets.
Presented by the Theatre Project at the handicapped-accessible Everyman Theatre, "Macbeth!" marks the third appearance of Tranter's Amsterdam-based Stuffed Puppet Theatre as part of the U.S./Netherlands Touring & Exchange Project. In case anyone is still under the impression that puppets are just kid stuff, keep in mind that the other shows Stuffed Puppet brought here were a psycho-drama set in a mental hospital and two one-acts on the theme of dominance and submission.
In a way, "Macbeth!" combines the issues in those previous productions. In the process, it plays free and easy with Shakespeare's script ("text arrangements" are credited to Luc van Meerbeke) and hones in on the way evil can overtake a man's soul. The Australian-born Tranter, who also makes his own puppets, even includes a puppet that is a tangible representation of evil.
Bearing a certain resemblance to the creature in "Alien," this hand puppet shows up right after Macbeth utters the famous speech beginning, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" Tranter may have intended this ghoulish creature to represent Hecate, the evil spirit most scholars believe to have been interpolated into Shakespeare's text. Or, perhaps it simply represents Macbeth's darker nature -- a kind of reverse Jiminy Cricket figure.
In either case, it takes over Macbeth's life, and, to a certain extent, the play itself. Not content merely to egg Macbeth on to wickedness, in one of the greatest departures from Shakespeare, this creature murders Lady Macbeth. But the scene that is most indicative of the creature's significance comes at the end, when Macbeth finally struggles with the demon, throws it off, and says, "Now even my soul has left me."
This hand puppet is one of various styles of puppets Tranter deftly manipulates. Three different-sized sets of red-eyed, triple-headed puppets represent the witches -- a hand-puppet, a life-sized puppet and a larger-than-life threesome that completely covers Tranter's body. Most of the other puppets are grotesque-faced, life-sized figures that move on hidden wheels and whose heads, and sometimes arms, are manipulated by Tranter.
What's intriguing about Tranter's puppeteering style is that he makes little effort to conceal that his lips are moving when the puppets speak. But the voices he gives them are so distinct, and his technique is so skillful, that the voices actually seem to emanate from the puppets themselves.
The ending of this unusual adaptation is a bit confusing. But there is no confusion about the production's forceful depiction of sheer evil, augmented by an appropriately ominous original score by Ferdinand Bakker and Kim Haworth.
"The world is bewitched when things can come to life," Tranter's Macbeth says at one point. The way this magician-performer brings things to life is bewitching indeed.
Where: Theatre Project at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.
When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 3 p.m. Sunday
Call: (410) 752-8558