Did you know that February is the traditional "month of purification?" It takes its name from the Latin februa, meaning "religious purification," referring to numerous festivals on that theme. March was the first month of the Roman year and February was the time of cleansing in preparation for a new start. In keeping with that ancient practice, Polarity Ensemble Theatre will present William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, throughout the month of February. Adapted and directed by artistic director Richard Engling, Macbeth runs at the Greenhouse Theater Center in the Lincoln Park January 30 through March 2, 2014.
"This production takes theater back to its origins as ritual," said Engling. "It casts the witches as ritual priestesses and presents Macbeth as a scapegoat in the original sense of the word. The evil in the society is focused in him, and his destruction cleanses us all. His tragedy then leads to more than a catharsis; it purges that which is poisoning us. At the same time this is a complete telling of Macbeth that the staunchest Shakespeare lover will enjoy."
Ritual purification is a facet of many religions. These rituals are meant to remove any uncleanness before partaking in a specific activity, particularly worship. Rituals vary from bathing in water to anointing with oils or smoke to the Catholic practice of confession to cleanse the soul.
In the theater, catharsis is also a form of purification. Credited to Aristotle, this term describes the effect of tragedy on the spectator when the soul is purged of excessive passions. In catharsis, emotions are purged through art, ultimately resulting in an emotional restoration and renewal.
A ritual of purgation was an important aspect of Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s original production of Macbeth (titled Absolute Macbeth ) in 2005. Artistic director Richard Engling said of the original production: “The ritual of Absolute Macbeth was designed as a kinetic prayer to purge the evil in our own body politic. It was a time of public soul-sickness. The Bush era wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plunged the nation into ever-increasing debt while his tax cuts (benefited) mainly the wealthy. Programs to support education, health, national infrastructure and the needy were reduced and eliminated.”
Did the ritual work? Said Engling: “We saw some interesting results, publicly and privately. The company members used the ritual to purge “evils” from their private lives, as well. But as any practitioner of prayer or ritual will tell you, the practice must be continued.”
Polarity brings back the practice as one aspect of its production of Macbeth for this February's month of purification at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The production runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. January 30 through March 2. Tickets are available by calling 773-404-7336 or online at www.petheatre.com.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts