BWW Review: Erica Schmidt's Psychologically Intriguing MAC BETH Moves Uptown
After playing downtown's Lucille Lortel Theater last as year as part of Red Bull's season, director Erica Schmidt's psychologically intriguing Shakespeare adaptation titled MAC BETH moves north for a remounting with Hunter Theater Project.
It's the players, more so than the play, that's the thing, as the focus of the evening is not on the text, but on the characters the actors are portraying who are portraying the characters in the text.
Schmidt's fact-inspired 90-minute trimming of the classic drama strongly alludes to a shocking news story from 2014 where a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls lured a friend into a wooded area to stab her multiple times with a kitchen knife in order to prove themselves worthy to a popular supernatural Internet character, Slender Man.
The victim survived and her attackers were diagnosed with a mental disorder that enabled them to bond through shared delusional beliefs.
Schmidt's research revealed that such violent acts among young girls under similar circumstances are not uncommon, most famously demonstrated by the tales that spawned the Salem Witch Trials.
Designer Catherine Cornell's set is a grassy space with a slightly manicured look that makes it resemble one of those funky community gardens you might find on a city side-street. There's an old couch set on a concrete platform next to a four-legged bathtub. A plank of lumber is set across a hole in the ground that fills with water after an onstage downpour.
Shakespeare's Scottish setting is suggested by having the company of seven (three of whom are repeating their performances from last year) playing teenagers dressed by designer Jessica Pabst in plaid parochial school uniforms.
The students who take on the roles of the witches (played by Sharlene Cruz, Sophie Kelly-Hendrick and Dylan Gelub) appear to be the leaders of this ritualistic playtime, with the protagonist roles assigned to their chums, played by Brittany Bradford (Macbeth), Ismenia Mendes (Lady Macbeth), Camila Cano-Flavia (Macduff) and Ayana Workman (Banquo).
The intricacies of Shakespeare's text become secondary to observing how these young women savor the escape from their regimented gender roles to play a story of male aggression featuring a woman who seeks power by pushing her husband to obtain it. The cackles of the witches sometimes give way to squeals of excited glee. Battle scenes turn into imitations of contemporary action movies.
When classic plays are adapted for modern dress, there are often humorous moments when contemporary objects are utilized to substitute for period items, but with this play-within-the-play conceit, the use of candy jewelry, tampons, smartphones and plastic bags holding the ingredient for the witches' brew are perfectly organic.
There is a Grand Guignol aspect to MAC BETH's climax, followed by a bit of dark humor that is both funny and realistically sickening.
Newcomers to Shakespeare's tragedy will undoubtedly need to study up on the source a bit in order to fully appreciate where Schmidt and her collaborators take it, but in a contemporary culture where children are said to grow up desensitized to violence, MAC BETH effectively uses a centuries-old play to deliver timely social commentary.