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Trash Macbeth
by William Shakespeare and ERA
Directed by Lucy Cashion
Equally Represented Arts
April 29, 2016

Mitch Eagles Photo by Wilson Webel ERA

Mitch Eagles
Photo by Wilson Webel

Welcome to part 3 of “ERA reinvents Shakespeare, and it’s awesome!” After successful runs of wildly, wonderfully experimental productions based on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, Lucy Cashion and company have turned their attentions to the Scottish Play. And in a similarly clever, surprisingly relevant vein, Trash Macbeth is a winner. Taking the audience along for the ride in a fully immersive, participatory trip through the minds of Shakespeare, Emily Post, Dr. Spock, and others, this is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen or lived it before.

The story of Macbeth is familiar, but here it’s been put into an unique new context. This isn’t simply “modern dress Shakespeare” as has been done before by numerous companies. This is a new creation, assembled by blending Shakespeare’s text with the works of etiquette expert Emily Post, along with Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, the biblical book of Revelation, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and a collection of advertisements and commercial jingles from the 1950s. Shakespeare’s story is essentially intact, but the generous sprinkling of other material makes for a different slant on the story, with the focus on social expectations and manners giving it a surprising new weight.  It’s also possibly the most immersive theatrical performance I’ve experienced, as the audience members are ushered into a dinner party at the Macbeths’ and greeted by the characters as we enter the eclectically decorated Chapel and treated as honored guests. Or as one honored guest, most specifically. In a unique twist, the audience collectively plays a role–that of the ill-fated King Duncan, given his lines to read in a key scene and adding to impact of the drama, considering what happens to the character.

Our hostesses for the event are Emily Post herself (Ellie Schwetye), as well as the ambitious Lady Macbeth (Rachel Tibbetts) and the conflicted Lady Macduff (Maggie Conroy). These three also double as somewhat disturbingly cheerful iterations of the three Witches, uttering commercial slogans and jingles about cleanliness and perfect homemaking skills along with their spells and prognostications. As the dapper, tuxedo-clad Macbeth (Mitch Eagles) climbs the social ladder by means of murder and plotting, his confusion about his own actions is palpable. In an another fascinating conceit, we’re also made witness to “confessional” style monologues from the key characters at key moments in the play, especially when a character is about to die.  There’s so much going on here, and so much to think about and consider, and I don’t want to give too much away as that would spoil the experience. Still, this is all presented in an extremely thoughtful, sometimes whimical, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating way that holds the audience’s attention from start to finish.

The performances are stellar, as well. From Schwetye’s somewhat too-cheerful Emily Post, to Tibbetts’s calculating but increasingly unsure Lady Macbeth, to Conroy’s frustrated housewife Lady Macduff, to Eagles’s conflicted Macbeth, Nic Tayborn’s bewildered Banquo, and Carl Overly Jr.’s determined Macduff, this small but versatile ensemble is ideally chosen. The juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s story with various images and concepts from an idealized 1950s America brings out the drama in a way that I hadn’t quite expected, and the excellent cast contributes to this effect with their stylized but remarkably human portrayals.

The Chapel is such a versatile space, and ERA has used it to the height of its potential with this boldly stylish production, incorporating the use of antiques of various styles, to a somewhat ostentatiously decorated dinner table dripping with melting wax candles, wine goblets and real wine for the audience to share. The table also doubles as a performance space later in the show, and various “trash” elements such as garbage bages and copious amounts of shredded paper are strewn about at occasional moments. Scenic designers Kristin Cassidy, Wilson Webel, and Lucy Cashion, along with costume designer Meredith LaBounty and Lighting Designer Erik Kuhn have created a fantastical space and world for these characters and the audience to inhabit, inspired by a feverish blend of eras and styles, as well as a noticeable nod to 1950’s style and advertising. There’s also a haunting atmospheric score played by composer and musical arranger Joe Taylor and musical Philip Zahnd.

Trash Macbeth is as much an experience as it is a production. Taking Shakespeare’s text and themes and combining them with other sources and themes from mid-20th Century American culture has turned this story into something that is at once timeless and timely. It brings the characters into focus in an inventive way, and creates a fascinating world for them (and us) to inhabit. It’s another artistic triumph from ERA.

Set for Trash Macbeth Photo by Wilson Webel ERA

Set for Trash Macbeth
Photo by Wilson Webel

Trash Macbeth is being presented by ERA at the Chapel until May 7, 2016 (go see it)! 

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