ERA's stunning 'Trash Macbeth' plays at the Chapel through May 7
It is a fantasy. It is a dream. It is a nightmare. It is a revelation. But is it Shakespeare?
The brilliantly imaginative Lucy Cashion and her Equally Represented Arts company have done it again. After their recent exciting riffs on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet they are serving up a strange and compelling piece called Trash Macbeth. In a remarkable, surrealistic way -- in a flurry of strange bits and pieces -- this adaptation seizes the fiery core of Shakespeare's play and drives it like a stake into the hearts of a 21st Century audience. This is far more than a director merely transposing the play into some other time and locale and hoping that we find some resonances. Miss Cashion puts the play through a meat-grinder, gives it spice and piquancy with juicy cuts from Emily Post, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, the Book of Revelation, commercial television and, it would seem, Betty Crocker.
She sets the play in a world of trash which is generated by overconsumption which is driven by incessant merchandizing which is driven by greed which relies on and exploits human weakness. She sets the play in America in the early 1950s. But this world bears the same resemblance to the real 50s America as Alice's "Wonderland" bears to the real Victorian England. And (most surprising indeed) we find that the moral tensions, the ambition, the workings of guilt and fear that lie at the heart of Macbeth are underscored and amplified by all those commercial forces preying on the insecurities of Americans who desperately seek the happiness and success that all those shiningly advertised products are promising them.
Shakespeare's plot is solidly still present, but you must be quite familiar with it before attending Trash Macbeth.
The tale is told by six actors:
- Mitch Eagles and Rachel Tibbets as the Macbeths, etc.
- Karl Overly and Maggie Conroy as the Macduffs, etc.
- Nic Tayborn as Banquo, etc.
- Ellie Schwetye as Emily Post, etc.
We enter the theatre space and are graciously greeted by our hosts. A long dinner table fills the center of the hall. We are all guests at a royal banquet. Some of us sit with the cast at the table, others along the walls. Men in the cast wear formal black suits with a small bit of colorful trash worn as a boutonnière. The women wear strange cocktail-ish dresses; they're in a 50s style, but they're made of trash. Lady Macbeth, for instance, has a bodice composed of ads for Brillo.
There is quite wonderful music throughout supporting every moment -- everything from soft simple jazz to strange haunting rhythms, from an ominous drone to a TV game show organ. Joe Taylor, the composer, plays keyboard; Philip Zahnd is on drums.
The three witches can see the future. Like the Norns from Norse mythology they spin, measure and cut the thread of Fate. Moreover they keep score; at either side of the stage are posted "to-do" lists -- lists of those people to be killed. At each murder a witch crosses off a name. This underscores the inevitability that is so essential to tragedy.
From time to time great lengths of string are draped across the stage, eventually embodying the vast web of Fate in which Macbeth is entrapped.
The prim voice of Emily Post repeatedly interrupts to instruct us in how to host the perfect dinner party, or the precise way to light and hold a cigarette. Throughout we are assaulted by deluges of advertising jingles and mottoes. ("This execution is brought to you by ***DIAL SOAP***.") At the end this all combines into a cacophony of advice to the despairing Macbeth. Once, at the end of a card trick, the deck of cards is sprayed into the air -- a subliminal echo of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When Macbeth appears after a murder his hands are filled with finely shredded paper, which drips over the audience as he passes -- like spatters of blood -- like drops of guilt. There is dance. There is also a great deal of inspired humor.
The entire performance is a kind of ritual.
The murder of Lady Macduff and her children is particularly powerful. It's heart-breaking. There is a frighteningly violent chase and struggle between the pregnant lady and her killers. As her spirit departs she passively recites a commercial message; I won't give it away, but it wrenchingly expresses corporate America's utter disdain for all things sacred -- even beautiful married love -- just as Macbeth's greed for power holds even innocent human life in disdain.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a TV game show -- like Macbeth's ancient Scotland, a place of wildly unrealistic and undeserved expectations. The characters, in their drab little self-introductions, reveal subtle and deep insight into themselves.
Director Lucy Cashion, with the assistance of Will Bonfiglio as dramaturg, have created a most remarkable evening of theatre. Weird and effective costumes are by Meredith
LaBounty. The design by Kristin Cassidy makes perfect use of the space. The very effective lighting is by Erik Kuhn.
I loved it. You might just hate it. But it will give you something to think and talk about.