Theater puts social issues at center stage with plays

Shelly Banjo

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” written in the 1600s, decried a society of war, corruption and tyranny. Now 400 years later, with an election approaching, the founders of local Polarity Ensemble Theatre think these issues are still relevant.

“‘Macbeth’ is about the purging of society’s tyrants, forging a strong parallel to our own society,” said Evanston resident Richard Engling, who founded the theater company with managing director Ann Keen in May.

“We envision our productions as ritual experiences, an invocation of the audience that will hopefully have a profound effect on our audience to take action in our society,” Engling said.

Although Polarity’s production of “Macbeth” will remain mostly faithful to the original, Engling has rewritten many of the choruses to bring current world issues into the theater.

“No matter who wins the 2004 election, there is still a tyranny in this country, and it has to do with how our money is spent,” he said. “Corporations have pumped money into the system, controlled information and subverted democracy.”

Another play Polarity is producing, Sophocles’ “Antigone,” is an anti-war play that looks at the timely issue of respect for the dead, Engling said.

Polarity plans to employ masked actors, pounding drums and candlelight instead of the usual entertainment aspects of the theater such as lights and costumes.

“We all connect to human struggles and desires better than anything the technical side of theatre has to offer,” wrote Keen on the Polarity Web site, “If you leave the theatre unmoved, we have not done our job.”

Engling and Keen began the theatre company after working together at the Shakespeare Inc. Company in Chicago.

Keen asked Engling to write a new version of “Antigone,” but the theater company lost funding before the play could be produced.

“We realized (producing ‘Antigone’) was only one among many things we wanted to do, and we loved working together,” Engling said.

As a result, they founded the new company with the help of many friends.

Although Engling and Keen are well under way in the creative process, Polarity remains in the fund-raising stages and still doesn’t have an actual facility.

They intend to produce two to three plays per year, beginning this spring or next fall. First, they had to take care of logistical responsibilities — putting together a Web site, creating a brochure and filing a nonprofit application.

“This whole process is taking longer than we thought, but we have entered the fund-raising stage and are confident,” Engling said.

Poet Robert Bly, a National Book Award winner, is planning to hold a reading to benefit the new theater company, Engling said.

“He is a national treasure. Just that he would do this shows belief in our new company,” Engling said. “We are constantly looking for any advice or donations that could help.”

Reach Shelly Banjo at [email protected]