Three uniformed private school girls dump their knapsacks and paperback scripts on the grass of a vacant lot and morph into the witches of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “Fair is foul and foul is fair!” they call, prostrated on their stomachs, pounding the earth. Not only do the harpies deliver lines, but omnipresence. Watching and literally running round and round the turf is extremely effective. (Annasophia Robb, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Sharlene Cruz)
There’s not a word outside Shakespeare in this successfully abbreviated version, no unnecessary explanation, no wink but for the occasional appearance of something contemporary – cell phones, flashlights, celebratory paper cups and Cheetos. There’s a smidgen of hip-hop—just a smidgen, honestly, though period music played loud or fast would’ve done. Everyone but the leads play multiple roles.
Macbeth (Isabelle Fuhrman) and Banquo (Ayana Workman) enter to hear the crones’ prophecy that Macbeth will become king. Triggered ambitions, further inflamed by power-hungry Lady Macbeth (Ismenia Mendes), provoke serial murders, madness, and war with Macduff (Lily Santiago).
Director Erica Schmidt was apparently inspired by newspaper stories of three 12 year-old girls who went into the woods after a party, one of them stabbing her best friend 19 times as sacrifice to internet ghoul “Slender Man.” The program notes: She was later diagnosed with “shared delusional belief,” a term that might just as easily define the strong bonds of fantasy that bind teen girls together.
These teenagers aren’t kidding around. They run and jump like school girls; one falls on the ground kicking and screaming with glee, but orate with focus and ENERGY. Tenderness and sexual implication shared by Macbeth and his wife are convincing. Counterpoint qualities make the production compelling.
The story, for those unacquainted or who’ve forgotten, is absolutely clear. (An excellent adaptation by Erica Schmidt.) Blood emerges where appropriate. Divination of heritage trenchantly utilizes several baby dolls. Ingredients tossed into the witches’ caldron are wince-inducing. Celebrations are infectious;“WAAAARRRRRRRRRR!” erupts. Two swampy ponds in the stage floor make moments vivid as does lightening, thunder, and pouring rain.
Of the company, Ismenia Mendes stands out. From the moment Lady Macbeth makes an entrance, the actress is not only elegantly, potently believable, but thoroughly comfortable with Shakespearean language. The Lady is clever, provocative, briefly celebratory, and quite mad. Mendes’ out damn spot scene is visceral. A gifted performance.
Isabelle Fuhrman’s Macbeth is uneven, better every time she’s in a two-hander with Mendes. We see hope, doubt, revulsion, and fear, but these sometimes dissipate without gut anchors. It’s as if source feelings aren’t quite understood. The talented performer needs a bit more time with the bard, but she’s on her way.
Director Erica Schmidt pays attention. The drama emerges inviolate, through an original lens. What could have been irritating (modern touches) roll by with flair. A stage of next to no physical ‘furniture’ doesn’t hamper tone or comprehension. The spirited cast of seven enter and exit fluidly. Witches are particular fun. Mac Beth is full of surprises, it’s ending inspired. (Just a little less yelling might serve.)
Movement Coordinator Lorenzo Pisoni (of circus fame) creates organized chaos when called for, walking the tightrope between playacting and gravity.
Catherine Cornell’s evocative Scenic Design offers topography and debris well employed by the show’s director. Karin White’s Properties deserve a call out for creativity. Costumes by Jessica Pabst are just right. Capes with tartan lining work wonderfully.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Red Bull Theater presents
Mac Beth by William Shakespeare Adapted and Directed by Erica Schmidt Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through June 2, 2019 Red Bull Theater