Sort of a cross between Naked Lunch and Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, the Tokyo-based Daisan Erotica theater company's free and freaky adaptation of Macbeth transports Shakespeare's tragic hero to a modern, mobster-ruled Japan overrun by sleazy samurais in dark pinstripe suits. Director-adapter Takeshi Kawamura divides the title character into three different roles--a fierce young warlord who wins honor in battle, an anxious bureaucrat who assumes power by devious means, and a decadent druggie rendered impotent by his own corruption--and the result suggests the crisis contemporary Japan faces as the leaders of its yakuza underworld gain increasing prominence. Bathed in the dark, nightmarish colors of a detective melodrama and frequently accompanied by the grandiose synthesizer chords of a schlock-rock theme song, the play is punctuated by bursts of grim violence: Lady Macduff, pregnant and pushing a baby carriage, is beaten to death in a park, and a gangster who has broken the yakuza code must face the trademark punishment of having his pinkie severed. There are passages of vivid black humor too, such as a witches' orgy in a public bath and a climactic basketball game in which Macbeth's head is used as a ball. For all its flash, A Man Called Macbeth nonetheless gets at the guts of Shakespeare's theme--that the individual corruption of a society's leaders inevitably eats away at the core of society as a whole. It's performed in Japanese with simultaneous English translation available, and presented as part of the 1992 International Theatre Festival. Steppenwolf Theatre, through June 21 (1650 N. Halsted, 644-3378 or 664-3370). Thursday and Friday, 7:30 PM; Saturday, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 PM. $29-$32.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kiyomi Tagawa.