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Shogun Macbeth Captivatingly Evokes Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood


From the intense samurai battles to the ritual tea ceremonies to the three wonderfully weird Yojos, Shogun Macbeth is a captivating take on Shakespeare’s murderous tale of ambition and greed. Well-received when Pan Asian Rep debuted it in 1986, John R. Briggs’s martial-arts adaptation, reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Shakespeare-inspired films Ran and Throne of Blood, sets the action among the warring clans of 12th-century Japan and includes most of the Bard’s original text with, of course, some Japanese substitutions (for instance, Thane of Cawdor is Ryoshu of Akita, the king is the shogun, and everyone guzzles sake). Other happy additions include a blind storyteller who frames the drama and a traditional kyogen interlude performed by a comedic pair of drunken gatekeepers.

Ernest Abuba capably directs the strong cast of 17 on a spare set dominated by a towering Buddha. The handsome Kaipo Schwab is a fine Macbeth, but the graceful Rosanne Ma is far more memorable as his two-faced wife, Fujin Macbeth, a dainty powder-faced doll with a cruel heart. Though you won’t see any fake blood in this production, her sleepwalking soliloquy—in which she dances with the hissing, growling