THEATER | At the Guthrie, Joe Dowling’s “Macbeth” is gloriously gory


Man’s greatest nightmare is the hell he creates all on his own. Nearly 400 years later, Macbeth remains one of the darkest tragedies ever written, and is realized to its full potential in the Guthrie’s 50th Shakespeare production, which runs through April 3rd. On the Wurtele Thrust Stage, director Joe Dowling turns the world of Macbeth into a vivid hyperreality.

The play opens with a glorious war scene, where Macbeth and Banquo defeat Macdonwald’s army. But the horrors of war are hardly better than the Macbeths’ forebodingly stark home, its living room minimally decorated with only a sleek, black leather couch and matching rug. Lady Macbeth (Michelle O’ Neill) saunters in, exuding power in a white pantsuit. She is the spitting image of the classic femme fatale, with her fair complexion, bright red locks, and lipstick. She sprawls across the couch with great satisfaction, seeming all too pleased with the picture-perfect lifestyle that she calls her own. It’s an unsettling sight.

Obviously, the Macbeths are no ordinary couple, who find no comfort in the simple things. When Lady Macbeth embraces her husband, it has barely a thing to do with love, though the pair harbors the kind of lust and eroticism, the “spark,” that the average long-term couple spends a lifetime trying to rekindle. They all but rip off each other’s clothes as they roll around the floor and couch, relishing in delight of one another, much to the audience’s disgust.

macbeth, presented through april 3 at the guthrie theater. for tickets ($24-$60) and information, see

The world of this Macbeth is a real-life hell for man, and one shrouded with mystery, for double meanings exist in everything, not limited to the witches’ riddles. For instance, who’s the most wicked among the witches, the Weird Sisters, or Lady Macbeth? Do we blame the sisters for providing the first prophecy, without any coercion from Macbeth? Or do we blame Lady Macbeth, who encourages her husband to find solace in unsavory sources? A humorous doubling comes later in the play as actor Isabell Monk O’Connor performs as a Weird Sister, then a doctor, as if trying to exorcise the demon she earlier helped to implant.

Macbeth himself, on the other hand, is terribly average. Erik Heger adds zero likeability to the character, and rightfully so. There’s nothing likeable about Macbeth, a man so compelled by forces outside of his own psyche that he loses reign of everything. To great effect, Dowling juxtaposes the mundane aspects of the Macbeths’ everyday life with scenes of violence and illusion. The play takes on the feel of a classic horror film, filled with disturbing scenes such as MacDuff’s child being murdered in a bathtub. There is also the horror of the unknown, when Macbeth kills Duncan offstage, leaving it to the audience’s imagination to figure out how horrific a scene only the Macbeths have witnessed.

Dowling’s greatest success in the production is trapping the audience in Macbeth’s world, without even an intermission for respite. We cannot escape Macbeth’s reign of terror, and there’s no end to it until Macduff and his men finally kill the villain and string him up by his feet. Macbeth becomes a prize kill hung for all to see, as if a warning to those who are thinking of taking his route.