FESTIVAL ARCHIVE  —  2023

2023 Festival Archive: La Fille Du Laitier

La Fille Du Laitier: Macbeth Muet

January 23-25, 2023

Chopin Theatre

Presented by Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

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“What, you egg!”: Fleshing Out Shakespeare with Objects in Macbeth Muet

An Essay by Ana Díaz Barriga

The night of January 23 in the basement of the Chopin Theatre, puppeteers Marie-Hélène Bélanger Dumas and Jérémie Francoeur used the conventions of silent movies—gestures, title cards, and music—to introduce themselves as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth respectively. They then proceeded to present the array of objects that would play their supporting characters: a glove as Macduff, a Styrofoam cup holding a King of Hearts playing card as King Duncan, a paper plate as Banquo, and paper, origami-style fortune tellers as the Witches. Thus began La Fille Du Laitier’s Macbeth Muet—a silent staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

It might be tempting to refer to this production as an adaptation of the Bard’s text, but I found Macbeth Muet more like a translation of the original play. As Shakespearian scholar and translator Alfredo Michel Modenessi suggests, a translation is an “exercise in originality,” one that goes beyond merely rendering the original in a different language by remolding it and creating it again in its new context (2015: 74). In its silence, Macbeth Muet acknowledges the linguistic capacity of puppetry to remold text through its particular devices. In La Fille Du Laitier’s production, the language of puppetry speaks volumes. 

Although Francoeur’s Macbeth never speaks a word, spectators can follow each of the lines in the text through the interactions between the character and the objects that surround him. “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” is illustrated by a dagger manipulated by Bélanger Dumas literally appearing to float in front of Macbeth. To audience members familiar with Shakespeare’s original, this enactment of the monologue is an instance of what theater scholar Marvin Carlson would call “ghosting”: When the spectator is confronted by something they have previously encountered on the stage, the memories of their previous encounters help them understand or give a new contextualization to the theatrical moment (2001: 7). Yet while these spectators might get an added layer out of the performance, the novice audience member also does not miss out. The performers’ rendition of the text through specific gestures and deliberate use of objects clarifies not only the narrative embedded in the play’s text but also the emotional arc Macbeth undergoes as the monologue propels his decision to murder King Duncan. 

In this translation of the Scottish play, “children” are replaced by “eggs,” as the characters interact with eggs every time they are supposed to be interacting with their own or others’ children. Through this choice, the performers can provide contextual information about the characters in the form of flashbacks. We learn about the start of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s romance, and through a series of broken eggs, we discover that they have lost every child they’ve ever had. This context informs the personality of Lady Macbeth, justifying her brutal royal ambitions. Later in the performance, a flashback following the same structure is used to provide a glimpse into Banquo’s intimate life, showing the death of his wife during the birth of his child, and into Macduff’s, as he and his wife produce child after child after child. 

Through the flashbacks and the use of eggs, the performance establishes a new language that allows for the grotesque. Shakespeare’s original text is notoriously bloody, such as when the murder of Macduff’s family is recounted in disturbing detail. The words themselves enact the violence for the spectators. In Macbeth Muet, the choice of objects allows spectators to dive deep into the visceral elements of the play. Unlike in the original, we see Macbeth arriving at the Macduff household, where a kitchen glove—Lady Macduff—tends to her dozen children. Macbeth violently grabs her and throws her to the side. He then seizes the eggs and places them on a plate. Slowly, he lowers another plate on top, cracking them all simultaneously. The yolks spread over the white cloth that covers the table. Lady Macduff approaches to try to protect an egg that survived the massacre. Holding her at bay, Macbeth cracks the egg in his hand. He then proceeds to grab the glove and bang it against the table, long enough for the laughter from the audience to subside and discomfort to set in. The messiness of the egg innards on the table was suddenly not innocent play—their stickiness and dirtiness were disgusting. 

Both comedic and brutal, La Fille Du Laitier’s Macbeth Muet makes no effort to conceal its theatricality. By pointing to the performance’s theatrical devices, Bélanger Dumas and Francoeur comment on the original text. So, for example, when Macduff faces Macbeth in the final battle, Bélanger Dumas brings in a series of title cards explaining how Macduff was able to kill Macbeth despite the prophecy that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” because Macduff was delivered by C-section and, therefore, technically not born of woman. Both performers shrug, acknowledging what we now see as the absurdity of the text, which nonetheless compels them to follow through with the ending of the play. The performance displays what Modenessi calls “an enhanced linguistic self-awareness” that creates a commentary on the original and highlights the devices used by the language of the translation in order to affect the culture in which the translation takes place (2015: 75). In so doing, Macbeth Muet not only places the Bard’s text squarely in the present, but it also enables the story to “persist and evolve” outside of its cultural constraints (Modenessi, 2015: 75). This kind of translation is carried out through the use of theatrical languages, moving the text from the language of human drama to that of puppetry. In so doing, La Fille Du Laitier’s translation reveals the possibilities for objects to flesh out Shakespeare’s text and characters. 

Works Cited

Carlson, Marvin. The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine. University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Modenessi, Alfredo Michel. “‘Every like is not the same’: Translating Shakespeare in Spanish Today.” Shakespeare, Origins and Originality, edited by Peter Holland, Shakespeare Survey, vol. 68, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 73–86.

World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts Entry

Festival Performances

About the Performance

Macbeth Muet. Photo by Sophie Gagnon Bergeron.January 23-25, 2023
Chopin Theatre (downstairs)
1543 W. Division St.

Performed entirely without words, Macbeth Muet completely deconstructs this Shakespeare Tragedy into a fast paced, visceral theater experience, using the body, objects as imagery, and a ton of fake blood. Entire scenes are reduced to a single look, as Shakespeare’s complex and beautiful poetry is rendered mute, and searing.

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Past Performances and Further Reading

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