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Lines such as “Fair is foul and foul is fair” would prick up the ears of any absurdist, but Eugene Ionesco probably would have homed in on Macbeth without them. The Romanian playwright lived in exile in Paris, his work banned at home by scheming dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. So it was only natural for Ionesco, who agitated against totalitarianism and linguistic cliché#s, to choose one of William Shakespeare’s best-loved and bloodiest masterpieces for revision. Hence Macbett, a seditious, scintillating parody, now brought to fruition by the Washington Shakespeare Company—although one of the Three Witches promptly amends the group’s name to “the Washington Ionesco Company” after killing off the guy delivering the prologue. Though faithful to its antecedent’s narrative of a star-crossed power grab, Macbett slices cleanly through Shakespearean conventions, rejiggering the plot and rearranging the trappings. Employing a magnificent, hulking set crafted of corroding metal and melodrama so intense it verges on operatic, the play barrages the audience with jokey self-reference (an interlude of arias underlines both the silliness of the characters and the other uses the play’s been put to) and a hilarity requiring only a healthy streak of cynicism to appreciate. Macbett (Ashley Strand) is an ass-kissing, fatigues-clad general given to pratfalls and fetishistic salutes, whose hypocrisy allows him to fall into conspiracy and adultery with Lady Duncan (Jenifer Deal). Although Macbett imagines himself driven by destiny, Ionesco makes it clear that the witches hissing in the general’s ear are only tapping into the hubris and cruelty already buried in his breast. Strand brings humor to Macbett’s humorlessness; he’s a dexterous actor who skims through his character’s crass consequentialism with the arrogance of a Humvee on an oil slick. The powerful cast dashes through dozens of overlapping personae, from madmen to diplomats, never breaking stride. Deal’s menacing Lady Duncan calls to mind the Valkyrie cousin of a Pre-Raphaelite angel, and as the ineffectual Archduke Duncan, Jonathon Church takes an aside to deliver a dazzling imitation of the current leader of the free world that’s worth the ticket price alone. Co-directors Kathleen Akerley and Christopher Henley keep the pace fast and furious (although Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy translates to a long night of absurdism, clocking in at more than two-and-a-half hours). Working with Charles Marowitz’s translation from the French, the cast expertly balances between salacious parody and cutting critique. Macbett furnishes a world undone, a rotted universe ripe for its corrupt characters. In the end, we are reminded that the play is a howl against war, and when the howl cuts through all that cleverness, it reverberates. —Neda Ulaby