“Is This a Mean Girl I See Before Me?”
If you’re a Shakespeare fan considering a visit to the Lortel to see the Red Bull Theater’s production of director Erica Schmidt’s adaption of Macbeth (respelled as Mac Beth), picture this: seven teenage girls, all dressed in parochial school garb—short skirts, suit jackets, high socks, vests, and white shirts with ties (designed by Jessica Pabst)—gather in a grassy junkyard (designed by Catherine Cornell). Around them are an overturned old couch, a metal bathtub, a truck tire, and other odds and ends of detritus. Their mission: to perform a stripped-down version of Macbeth.
|Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Sharlene Cruz, Annasophia Robb. Photo: Carol Rosegg.|
|Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Isabelle Fuhrman, Ayana Workman, Sharlene Cruz. Photo: Carol Rosegg.|
If you’re ready to watch seven young actresses whose nearly uniformly high-pitched voices barely differ from one another shouting Shakespeare’s lines at Mach speed for 90 minutes, then Schmidt's approach is for you. You may even not squirm as they turn the tragedy’s characters into angst-ridden teenage girls, often completely missing the intent of the lines (like Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger” speech), with attitude replacing nuance.
Sometimes, laughter is the goal, as during the manic banquet scene when Banquo’s ghost appears like a zonked-out zombie, or when, after Macbeth is slain by Macduff (Lily Santiago), the witches silently descend on her corpse with butcher knives and slice away for an eternity until one holds the king's severed head as if she were Perseus with the head of Medusa. What might otherwise be sickening (the head is realistic) instead becomes a sight gag as the witches take group selfies with their trophy, bringing this maimed adaptation to an end.
Schmidt, whose production follows famed director Tyrone Guthrie’s “Wouldn’t-it-be-fun-to” approach to Shakespeare, occasionally creates striking images on the thrust stage (which now seems a permanent fixture at the reconfigured Lortel). An example is the witches’ cooking of disgusting things in a pot as smoke pours out and, under Jeff Croiter’s dramatic lighting, the rain pelts them while one holds aloft a red umbrella.
Even if the production is seeking to satirize toxic masculinity by having it embodied in the presence of young women, or to otherwise comment on Shakespeare's male-female power issues, one still has to sit through a production in which actresses I’ve seen do far better work are unable to help us take what we’re seeing seriously. Their plentiful earnestness is insufficient for a play over which even seasoned adult professionals often stumble. They excel at representing teens trying to act Shakespeare but not at actually playing Shakespeare. Somewhere, sometime, the audience must forget the interpretation's premise and become involved in the tragedy of Macbeth; Schmidt's radical approach makes sure that doesn't happen.
If you’re going to do Macbeth in the guise of a mean girls’ teenage drama, Schmidt's is probably the best way to do it. The question remains, however, despite the interpretive rationales offered in the program notes: Why do it in the first place?
|Lily Santiago. Photo: Carol Rosegg.|
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St., NYC