A quarter-century ago, the director Joe Calarco adapted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Off Broadway for a cast of four students crawling the walls of their repressive all-boys Catholic prep school. Billed as Shakespeare’s R&J, the show was somber, by no means camp. There was no cross-dressing. Regional and international revivals continue to this day.
In spring 2019, the Red Bull Theater gave the New York premiere of Erica Schmidt’s Mac Beth, performed by a seven-woman ensemble enacting teenagers in high-school uniforms, and that was a hit, too. Like Calarco’s love story, Schmidt’s thriller presents cannibalized Shakespeare as a full-length play within a new play—one that consists almost entirely of scenery and concept, virtually free of new dialogue.
“These girls have a Macbeth club,” Schmidt explains in a preface. “They agree to meet in an abandoned field to ‘do’ the play.” But not just to do the play—also to carry out in reality a deed that in an ordinary performance would be “just pretend.” Remember the true-crime buzzword “Slender Man” or the name Skylar Neese? If not, see Mac Beth now and Google them later. What’s done can’t be undone!
Led by Isabelle Fuhrman’s fresh-faced king slayer, the ensemble isn’t doing “poetry.” They speak in swift, colloquial American, with vivid intelligence, knowing—as school-age amateurs such as those they are portraying might not—exactly what they’re saying. The high-voltage theatrics and Schmidt’s evocative junk-strewn production earned a haul of Off Broadway award nominations in categories including outstanding revival and outstanding director of a play. This month, the show returns on video, like Banquo’s ghost, to give home viewers the willies for two weeks only (May 16 to 29). Mac Beth hath murdered sleep! You snooze, you lose.
Mac Beth is available for streaming on the Red Bull Theater Web site from May 16 through May 29
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii