A Comedy of Shakespearean Proportions

What do you get when you take selections and characters from the works of William Shakepeare, 8 talented actors, the events of recent years (which, honestly, were fairly Shakespearean when you think about it), and a theatre company whose mission is to create unique and socially conscious theatre? You get Plan-B’s Lady Macbeth.

Playwright Aden Ross has thrown tidbits of Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear and The Merchant of Venice into a theatrical blender. Lady Macbeth (Michelle Peterson) and her sister, Queen Gertrude of Denmark (April Fossen), have both been widowed recently under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, Iago (Jay Perry) is wandering Birnam Wood in disguise, where he meets Portia (Tracie Merrill), also in disguise; together they spy on Othello (Joe Debevc), a soldier of fortune whose ship has just been wrecked on the shores of Scotland. Malvolio (Kirt Bateman) and Ophelia (Lauren Noll), members of Gertrude’s court, add to the confusion of mistaken identities, gender-bending cross-dressing, twins separated at birth, near-death experiences, unexpected reunions, character transformation and, of course, a play within a play. –description from the Plan-B website

The play opens with Lady Macbeth and her Fool (Jason Tatom) alone in the throne room. We learn two things immediately… first, despite their dress, they will not be speaking strictly Elizabethan-style English (though that doesn’t stop them from using iambic pentameter whenever it suits them) and second, the play is a thinly veiled reference to George W. Bush’s presidency casting a malapropism-dropping Lady Macbeth into his role with the Fool as both the speech writer and, like in King Lear, also the sole voice of reason in this play.

There were so many fun moments as the characters interacted, that I know I won’t be able to name them all. The fool’s sock puppet… The swaggering, overconfident Othello being dragged away by both lusty ladies, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude… Iago as a good-guy finding Portia wandering in the woods and assuming the brother/sister role from Twelfth night as they meet Ophelia who is unsuccessfully looking for a river to throw herself in… Malvolio’s saving of Ophelia both from drowning and in finding herself and her voice… Malvolio getting to play a faerie… However, for me, a fan of the bard, I loved the odd bits of Shakespeare thrown in for effect, and not just from the plays listed in the official description, oh no, we got nearly the complete works here, including parts of sonnets.

Normally a play (I suppose I should call it a farce, as that’s what it technically is, but that term scarcely does it justice. It’s like calling MASH a comedy) that ┬áliberally pulls from the bard’s works should be a train wreck but Ross (along with the talented delivery from the actors) avoids this and instead uses the dialogue so slyly that there were quite a few instances where I would hear the line and not realize where it came from until after it had been said. It was also interesting to see the character arcs focussed on the what we might consider the supporting characters: Iago, Portia, Ophelia, Malvolio, and, of course, the Fool, while those we would consider (and indeed Shakespeare made) leading characters, Lady Macbeth, Othello and Gertrude only changed because circumstances changed around them, not due to inner growth.

It’s at this point in a review where I like to call out individual actors who stood out from the rest (both good and bad) and either praise or fault their performance. In this case, I simply cannot do that. Not because everyone was mediocre, but because everyone was equally talented and didn’t hold back a thing. Each actor in this ensemble (and that’s what it truly was) created a solid, memorable character, relished their lines and gave 100% of themselves to their fellow actors. This isn’t always what theatre is like, sometimes you need a star, but in the case of this play, it wasn’t necessary and the results were incredible.

The play isn’t by any means difficult to stage or grandiose in its scale and gravitas, but I know a less experienced troop of actors would not be able to pull this off. It took the true professionalism and talent of this ensemble and, indeed, this company to make this work on all of its levels. A lesser troop would stop at the comedy and play only that up, rather than making their characters as real as these actors did.

Plan-B Theatre company’s Lady Macbeth performs October 27 – November 6 in the Studio Theater at the Rose Wagner Center for the performing arts. For more information, visit Plan-B’s website. Tickets available through Arttix.org


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One Response to A Comedy of Shakespearean Proportions

  1. Danene Peterson says:

    I won tickets to the dress matinee. Thank you so much. The play is so clever, it’s Shakespeare meets Jon Stewart ( I like the politics). The actors are all perfect in their roles and they did a wonderful job. I laughed so hard I hurt something.

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