Shakespeare is great as straight drama or as total parody; indeed both Royal Shakespeare Company and Reduced Shakespeare Co coexist happily next door to each other. The goofy, frequently puzzling MacWhat? proves it’s a much dicier proposition to try to pull off both at the same time.
The tagline of MacWhat? is “Shakespeare is supposed to be for everyone, right?” It’s a noble proposition, and director Tim King follows through on it, casting a diverse assortment of actors in gender-bending roles. King plays Max, a mischievous, confident director not afraid to buck conventions to break new ground. His farcical, male/female swapped version of Macbeth is full of slapstick and wacky comedic beats, layered on top of serious Shakespearean verse.
As Monica/Macbeth, Emily Canavan puts in yeoman’s work as the emotional center of an up and down show. She embraces the role of the doomed king with a conviction that lets her fellow performers, well, go nuts. It’s about the only consistent thing about the show. Meanwhile, Kimberly Pyle brings unexpected balletic grace to the role of Chelsea/Banquo. She breaks up the madcap comedy with sinuous dance numbers and earnest take on Macbeth’s ally, when not getting in on the fun herself.
by Timothy R. King and William Shakespeare
Directed by Timothy R. King
Details and tickets
On the more absurd side, Jane Gibbins-Harding adds a heavy dose of impish fun as stage manager and stand-in Susie. Gibbins-Harding gets a lot of comic mileage out of Susie’s ridiculous headgear – everything sounds funnier with a braces-induced lisp. She stands out as a class clown in a cast trying very hard to make the audience laugh. In a later appearance as Shakespeare’s ghost, she struggles to maintain a Stratford accent while reciting King’s bizarrely written taunts. But that doesn’t undo the cheeky fun she weaves in the early going.
The rest of the play is sort of a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess. There are references to Michael Jackson and Harry Potter stacked up next to impressive dramatic stretches from several cast members. There are even “Behind the Scenes” style video segments – some funny, some confusing – that explain the cast’s motivations within the show.
In a nutshell, MacWhat? uses Macbeth as the skeleton of an absurdist talent show, full of quirky humor, random nudity, mysterious accents, and unexpected dance numbers. While it may not always make sense, the cast has a blast making their vision of “Shakespeare for everyone” come to life.