Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil

You may already know Macbeth—three witches, a ruthless would-be king, a scheming Lady and murder—but chances are you’ve never seen it performed without a spoken word. That’s what La Fille Du Laitier—a Canadian “theatre delivery service”—brings to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas with Macbeth Muet, which has its final performance tonight.

Though no words are spoken—“muet” is French for “mute”—in this tightly choreographed, 55-minute rendition of one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, a few words are delivered on black cards like the frames between the action of a silent film, including the key prophecy: Macbeth will become king. The message is delivered not by a trio of prognosticating witches but rather three dark “fortune teller” toys—the origami kind you tuck your fingers into and alternate open and closed—and Macbeth and his wife set out to make it come true.

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Knowing the source material isn’t essential to enjoying this expressive performance, which relies on a few simple props on a table as well as the facial expressions and hand gestures of the talented Jérémie Francoeur and Marie-Hélène Bélanger Dumas. You’ll be able to follow the gist of this eternal story of power, greed, guilt and fate. But if you do know Macbeth, you’ll appreciate the details of this brutal, bloody pantomime: the shadows of Birnam Wood cast on the wall, the king’s head on a platter.

Wordless doesn’t mean soundless. The performance begins with a pre-show soundtrack, a mishmash of genres bound together by the themes of the play. The music continues throughout, commenting on the action, and the sharp ping of a bell cues the shift from one movement to the next, sometimes with just seconds between, as if Macbeth and his Lady are life-sized marionettes responding to commands beyond conscious thought, until one death too many finally breaks that spell.

Macbeth Muet was born as a frenetic, five-minute piece for a cabaret and then grew as developers Dumas and Jon Lachlan Stewart, collaborating with Francoeur and the original Lady Macbeth, Clara Prévost, added more depth and detail to their stripped-down production. Ironically, they also folded in several “prologues” not found in Shakespeare’s original text, which tell the back stories of the families intertwined in this tale: Macbeth’s, Macduff’s and Banquo’s. In a talk-back following the show, a Yale graduate student, who recently directed a production of “the Scottish play” herself, noted the additional scenes suggest an interesting answer to one of the burning questions the play leaves behind: Why do the Macbeths do what they do?

You might also ask another perennial question: Why noodle around with Shakespeare at all? But Macbeth Muet is no mere gimmick or rehash. It’s a thrilling emotional ride that swings between humor and horror. This is the kind of theater I’ve come to expect from Arts & Ideas—bold, provocative, entertaining. Free concerts on the Green? Of course! But if you can, buy a ticket to Macbeth Muet or another offering, too, and enjoy these fleeting festival days to the fullest.

Macbeth Muet
by La Fille Du Laitier
Iseman Theater – 1156 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Today, June 15, 8 p.m. | $59 (students $23)

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images, featuring current Macbeth Jérémie Francoeur and former Lady Macbeth Clara Prévost, sourced from artidea.org.

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