Crimson King: The Rep's Macbeth is bloody brilliant

Crimson King: The Rep's Macbeth is bloody brilliant

Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 6 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves.
Tickets are $15 to $70.
Call 314-968-4925 or visit

Of all Shakespeare's plays, Macbeth has perhaps the most straightforward plot. A powerful warrior (Macbeth) wins the day for his king and then is persuaded by his wife to usurp the throne. He does so, and madness consumes both husband and wife. The end.

The almost skeletal nature of the story allows directors a great deal of leeway to interpret the tale; director Paul Mason Barnes has chosen to build a tale of political intrigue on these rock-solid bones, and in so doing delivers a thrilling version of the Scottish play that is as much about the secretive actions of our political leaders as it is about the rights of ascension in ancient Scotland.

Michael Ganio's set — a central stage flanked by a blood-red walkway and ringed on three sides by a wall of skewed, upright boards — enhances the sense of secrets leaking out, as Macbeth (Timothy D. Stickney, enthralling and magnetic) and Lady Macbeth (Caris Vujcec, a saturnine beauty with a steel spine) plan and commit multiple murders while faces and figures peek through the slats behind them. Often these faces belong to those of the three witches who prophesied Macbeth's rise to power — Michael Keyloun, Shanara Gabrielle, David Graham Jones — adding an eerie tang to the couple's plotting as these figures flit through the background like distant voices in one's head.

The first murder is that of King Duncan (Jerry Vogel, sterling as ever) and his servants, and it's an offstage act so gory that Macbeth emerges with his hands bloody to the elbows and drops spattering the stage in his wake. Even a man as versed in killing as he is affected by this act; there are still bloodstains on Macbeth's neck when he reappears in the next scene as king.

Lady Macbeth's eventual madness is underplayed, to great effect. Vujcec doesn't scream much, nor does she rave. Her unraveling is quick; she's filthy in her final scene, the once-proud queen smeared in soot, her hair ratty, her hands clean from scrubbing but still stained. Then she's gone, her sudden physical absence underscoring her vacant mental faculties.

The payoff for all this blood and damnation is more blood and a near-damnation. Macbeth's final confrontation with Macduff (Michael James Reed), whose wife and children have been snuffed out on Macbeth's orders, is a framed not as a battle between right and wrong but solely as a matter of personal vendetta. Macduff descends (literally, through a hole that suddenly appears in the stage) down to Hell to finish off his foe, awash in crimson lights and bloodlust. His eventual return to white lights and earth signals not just a restoration of political balance, but also of moral equilibrium. Macduff confesses his regicide — something Macbeth never does — and is restored to his place of honor. There are personal murders and political ones; Macduff has just committed both, but he's upfront about his reasons and does so in clear sight of everyone. For a play in which secrets always lead to murder, his openness is the only route to safety and sanity. 

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