Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mac Beth

I have seen enough mediocre-to-bad high-concept productions of Shakespeare's plays to shudder at the very idea of "high-concept." Then along comes Mac Beth, the amazing Red Bull Production adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt, and high concept suddenly looks like an excellent--no, brilliant--idea.

Isabelle Furhman and Ismenia Mendes
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Seven schoolgirls act out Macbeth in a vacant lot featuring a beat-up couch, an old bathtub, puddles, and some grass. There's no preamble; they jump right in.  Their performances are contemporary and young and present the themes and emotions of Macbeth in a new and fresh way. And, although virtually all of the words are Shakespeare's, Mac Beth also focuses on the lives of contemporary teenage girls and the fervor of their emotions and loyalties.

Schmidt directs Mac Beth as a whirlwind of a show; it is always compelling, frequently funny, and occasionally chilling. The cast of young women is astonishingly good, led by Isabelle Fuhrman as the too-easily-influenced Macbeth and Ismenia Mendes as a driving, intimidating Lady Macbeth. In Schmidt's hands, the Macbeths' interactions mirror teenage peer pressure along with adolescent testing of power, limits, and sexuality. It's almost like watching two plays at once, and the show is downright thrilling when the parts coalesce. (However, this would not be a good version for people seeing Macbeth for the first time. Some of the dialogue is lost in the general tumult, and it is not always clear who is playing whom.)

Years ago, there was a stir when Kenneth Branagh was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for his film of Hamlet even though he had used Shakespeare's play verbatim. This of course brought up questions of what direction adds to a story, what is considered to be writing, and so on. This Mac Beth is listed as "by William Shakespeare" in the program, "adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt."
Yet Schmidt has brought so much that is new and unique to this production that I would have no problem with the credits reversed: "written and directed by Erica Schmidt, based on the play by William Shakespeare."

Wendy Caster
(third row, press ticket)
Show-Score: 90

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