Synchronicity Theatre: Mac | Beth

If you decide to go to Synchronicity Theatre’s production of Erica Schmidt’s Mac | Beth directed by Jennifer Alice Acker, you may want to avoid sitting in the front row. The fake blood splatter from Macbeth’s death scene made it to at least a half-dozen seats that I know of and possibly a few more. After the show I went all Lady Macbeth in the restroom and even now, after scrubbing my clothes in the sink, the dye is still staining my hands. Out, out damn spot! Seriously, though, the theater should have notified attendees of the splatter risk: I find it terribly unprofessional that they didn’t. I generally try to take front-row seats when I can because I’m short but I definitely would have sat a row or two back if I’d known.

I generally avoid performances of the top-tier Shakespearean dramas these days just because my opinions about them tend to be fairly strong and I can sometimes get a little too judgmental to really enjoy myself. And while Macbeth isn’t the hardest thing to stage, I feel that the best parts require a bit more thought than most people put into it. It also happens to be the only play with a speech that I’ve memorized. And I didn’t even mean to memorize it, either. I’ve just seen and read it so many times that one evening I was thinking about the scene and realized that I could recite the sound and fury speech from memory. I think that I had one or two words wrong, but nothing that wouldn’t pass muster on stage.

Despite my avoidance, Mac | Beth offered something that made me want to see it: an all girl cast. Well, all women, but they were playing girls who were playing the characters in Macbeth. Schmidt’s adaptation isn’t so much to the script as the staging: it’s a bunch of high-school girls in tartan skirts and white shirts coming together in a grassy lot to act out the play with a gate, a hill, some rocks, and an abandoned sofa for a set. Their props are whatever happens to be available, such as a crescent wrench for a dagger and yarn as blood. We don’t get much in the way of an introduction to the girls, though we do see them slowly congregate in the clearing acting all the world like teenagers hanging out.

The play that they are performing is Shakespeare’s, but they bring a lot of contemporary affectations to their lines and performance, like a dance party for Macbeth’s coronation or characters texting news to each other, which actually work perfectly well with Shakespeare’s dialog. A few times there were interruptions from the outside world, like a bit of drama on a phone call by one of the secondary performers. The script is edited down quite a bit but the only major change that I noticed was the end: the girl playing Macduff stops killing Macbeth when she accidentally hurts the girl playing that role. She apologizes, with another girl responding that she shouldn’t apologize and then all of the other girls step in and finish Macbeth off in a frenzy, eventually dragging the character out of sight for the decapitation. The girl playing Macduff, rather than getting vengeance for her character, watches from the side in shock.

While watching it, I felt that things like the dance party or contemporary affectations put it in context of the girls’ world but the real-world interruptions or the girl playing Macduff apologizing and backing out of the fracas were too few and far between to be meaningful or effective for me and, instead, were just distractions. Thinking about it the morning after, however, it occurs to me that those moments drew me out of the drama of Shakespeare and forced me to remember that the actors were playing girls who were playing Shakespeare’s characters. With the interruptions, it wasn’t just a production of Macbeth set in a schoolyard but, rather, a play about a bunch of girls relating to Shakespeare’s play.

The fact that everyone was female affected me less than the fact that they were supposed to be teenagers. It made the power struggle, paranoia, loss of self, and regret of the play seem more universal. Or maybe not universal so much as couched in the same angst that fuels teenage social drama. It was kind of like the bit that the Daily Show used to do where they had kids read quotes from politicians to supposedly demonstrate how childish they sounded. That I didn’t really think about it this way until the morning after makes me wonder how effective it really was. Then again, I spent the rest of the evening after the play wondering if I’d be able to get the stage blood out of my clothes (which I did, but for some reason it’s still staining my skin in some places).

I wonder if more could have been done to make the verfremdungseffekt more effective and less a comedic novelty. For example, once the rest of the girls take over for Macduff in the killing of Macbeth, there’s no real reason to look back at Macduff as the action has moved away from her. I happened to do so a few times because I like seeing what actors do when the focus isn’t on them and that’s the only reason that I noticed her looking a bit horrified at the violence and gore. I feel somewhat that the Acker’s direction was focused more on the Shakespeare than the Schmidt but also that Schmidt wrote too little of the girls’ characters into the script for Acker to have been able to do terribly much more. That said, it was a generally decent production. The stagecraft was good and the performances mostly decent. One or two actors were a bit underwhelming but the principals were all solid enough. There were speeches that I’d want to have seen delivered differently, but that’s going to happen in almost any production of one of Shakespeare’s plays. Overall, I thought it was a good bit of theater.

Leave a Reply