This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

3Jan/20

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: MAC BETH

(photo by Richard Termine)

Lady Macbeth (Ismenia Mendes) reaches out to her royal husband (Isabelle Fuhrman) in inventive reimagining of Shakespeare tragedy (photo by Richard Termine)

Hunter Theater Project
Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter College
East 68th St. between Lexington & Park Aves.
Monday - Saturday, January 6 - February 22, $49 ($15 for students)
www.huntertheaterproject.org

If you missed Erica Schmidt’s Red Bull Theater production of Mac Beth at the Lucille Lortel Theater in mid-2019, it will be back for a return engagement at the Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter College as part of the Hunter Theater Project, running January 6 to February 22. Below is my original review of this inventive and engaging work, which features much of the original cast, with Brittany Bradford now as the title character and Dylan Gelula taking over for AnnaSophia Robb.

Erica Schmidt’s beautifully frenetic Shakespeare adaptation Mac Beth — yes, she has made the title two words, perhaps to emphasize the more feminine second half of the title — is an exhilarating demonstration of grrl power, ratcheted up to the nth degree. The Red Bull production is set at a girls school where seven students enact an all-female version of Macbeth. They are dressed in schoolgirl uniforms of buttoned white shirts under tartan tops and skirts, with bloodred socks reaching up to their knees; aggressively ominous and gender-neutral hooded capes are added for the Weird Sisters. (The costumes are by Jessica Pabst.) Catherine Cornell’s set juts into the audience, covered in fake grass with a partially overturned couch, an iron bathtub, a campfire, and water-filled craters, as if the aftermath of a wild sorority bash. (When the characters imbibe, they do so from red plastic cups, a party staple.) And although they speak in the traditional iambic pentameter, they don’t disguise their voices to be more adult, instead sounding like a bunch of kids invigorated by putting on a show exactly the way they want to.

(photo by Richard Termine)

The Weird Sisters (Sharlene Cruz, AnnaSophia Robb, and Sophie Kelly-Hedrick) stir the boiling cauldron in Mac Beth (photo by Richard Termine)

Macbeth (Isabelle Fuhrman) is returning from a successful military campaign with the loyal Banquo (Ayana Workman) when they come upon three witches (AnnaSophia Robb, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, and Sharlene Cruz, who play multiple roles) who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, then king, while Banquo’s sons will one day rule. Fear, jealousy, and revenge take over as the power grab is on, but with delicious twists; in the Bard’s day, his plays were performed by an all-male cast, but this twenty-first-century all-woman cast — armed with smartphones — revels in the gender shifts without altering the original text. “Are you a man?” Lady Macbeth (Ismenia Mendes) asks her husband. Facing a ghost (hysterically played by Workman), Macbeth declares, “What man dare, I dare: be alive again, / And dare me to the desert with thy sword; / If trembling I inhabit then, protest me / The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow! / Unreal mock’ry, hence!” It’s as if they are caught up in a teenage horror flick, with all the adolescent tropes in place but seen only from the girls’ point of view. Even one of the witches’ prophecies takes on new meaning when she predicts, “Be bloody, bold, and resolute: laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth.” At one point Lady Macbeth tells a witch, “Unsex me here.”

(photo by Richard Termine)

AnnaSophia Robb and Sophie Kelly-Hedrick play witches and other characters in Bard play set at a girls school (photo by Richard Termine)

Schmidt’s (A Month in the Country, Invasion!) breathlessly paced version flies by in a furious ninety minutes, both sexy and sinister, gleefully performed by the terrific cast led by Fuhrman’s (All the Fine Boys, Orphan) tortured Macbeth and Mendes’s (Marys Seacole, Orange Is the New Black) malevolent Lady Macbeth. Robb (The Carrie Diaries, Bridge to Terabithia), NYU Tisch freshman Kelly-Hedrick, and recent CCNY grad Cruz make strong off-Broadway debuts, playing the witches as well as Duncan, Malcolm, Fleance, Rosse, Angus, Lenox, and other minor characters; in particular, Kelly-Hedrick captures the essence of girlhood — tinged with menace — in her squeaky delivery. Schmidt’s inventive staging also boasts a thrilling storm, a creepy doll, and a touch of gymnastics, although if there was one more loud bang against the tub I was going to scream. Schmidt was inspired to revisit Macbeth by reading stories about girls being murdered in the woods. In Mac Beth, she takes back the power, putting the girls in charge in a gender swap that is as exciting as it is, in this day and age, necessary. Schmidt makes us look at the bloody power plays of Scottish kings as if they are the social dominance battles of high school — and vice versa — and every audience member comes out a winner.

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