In I, Banquo, Tim Crouch’s one-man up close and personal examination of the events of Macbeth, the title character (hauntingly portrayed by Dan Waller under Marti Lyons’ careful direction) speaks from beyond the grave to his former best friend, the king-killing Thane of Glamis. As he recounts the events of Shakespeare’s play, he asks the viewers to pretend we are Macbeth, whose name is not mentioned until the very end, and to wonder how we would have handled the prophecies made to him by the Weird Sisters, while acknowledging all along that “it could have been me.”
Speaking from the vantage of the grave, with Crouch cleverly using as much of the Bard’s foreboding language as he can wedge into the mouth of a fairly minor character who dies one-third of the way through the original play, Banquo finds himself fixed on what might have been. They had always shared the glory gained in battle, he tells us, and if he and not Macbeth had killed the treasonous MacDonwald on the battlefield, their fates could have been switched. “If the Sisters had said what they said to you to me—to me and not to you” then he might have been the one to be damned. All it took, he argues, was “a suggestion when tired, a moment’s weakness, an imagination dimmed” to lead to “one horrid deed that, once done, cannot be undone.” Because of this thought, he tells us, he cannot blame Macbeth for any of it, not even for killing him.
Macbeth has been called the most evil of all of Shakespeare’s creations—a claim that can only be made if you willfully forget about Iago—but Crouch is more forgiving than that. Sure, he committed atrocities, but they were all in service of a thought that was not his own, that, Inception-like, was planted into his brain. The play argues that anyone could have become the Sisters’ victim if even the “noble Banquo” might have succumbed, and the repeated invitation to place ourselves into the narrative forces us to consider just how proof our own souls might have been to a similar temptation.
Lighting designer Jason Lynch plunges Yu Shibigaki’s set into darkness only occasionally punctuated by highlighting of, for example, appearances of Patrick Scott McDermott as Fleance. Banquo sits in a well-worn chair with Macbeth’s bloody handprint stamped on it as he tells us the devastating story, one that is enhanced by Mikhail Fiksel’s original score and sound effects (which are more prominent if the viewer is using headphones, as the invitation suggests). Lyons and Waller take advantage of all of this, diving deeply into the inescapable nightmare and taking us along for the ride.
I, Banquo is a dark and powerfully impressive reflection of the horror imagined by Shakespeare, and among the finest shows I have seen in this pandemic year. I imagine it would be among the finest any year, and it was well worth its brief 45-minute running time. It is only available through April 18, though, so I recommend that you catch it quickly. It is available on chicagoshakes.com.