Playing thru November 6, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime readers of this site will know that I love the works of William Shakespeare. So, I was thrilled to review Lady Macbeth, which Plan-B Theatre Company describes as a “Shakespearean mash-up.” The cast of characters including old favorites like Gertrude, Malvolio, Ophelia, Iago, Othello, Portia, and the title character.

Director Jerry Rapier deftly handles the central concept of Lady Macbeth. I was pleased with how he directed some scenes, especially in the opening of the play, as if he were directing a traditional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But as the mood of the show gets a little zany, Rapier controls the action and makes ensures that the themes of the script are clear. I thought that Rapier was at his best towards the end as Lady Macbeth returns from her headache, which was the beginning of a zany scene that never felt cartoony.

Of course, Rapier had the help of a supremely talented cast. I enjoyed the vaudevillian performance of Jason Tatom (as the Fool) and Michelle Peterson (as Lady Macbeth). Both were aware of their punchlines and established quickly that classic characters in the show—normally associated with tragedy—would be funny for at least one evening. I also enjoyed the performance that Jay Perry presented as Iago. To me, this role felt like the deepest in the play as he resisted the advances of other characters, cross-dressed, and acted in a play-within-a-play. Perry handled all of these situations with charisma and a pleasant cheeriness that I normally don’t associate with Iago.

The technical elements were simple, but pleasing. The music was a delightful blend of modern and classical, being arrangements of modern rock songs (such as “The End of the World as We Know It”) played by a string quartet. This mood fitted perfectly with the show, which was a nice blend of Renaissance and modern. The costumes (Phillip R. Lowe) were stereotypically Renaissance (except for Malvolio’s dazzling fairy costume), and the props (Curtis Kidd) were functional and visually interesting (especially the wagon used in almost every scene).

Despite all these positive aspects, they were not enough to overcome the problems of Aden Ross‘s script. I was never sure whether Ross was hoping to write a love letter to Shakespeare, a biting political satire, or a deconstruction of the Bard’s works. Any one of these concepts could be an interesting play, but because Ross refused to focus on just one theme, the result is a mess of a script. Instead of a loving homage to Shakespeare, the script of Lady Macbeth feels like Ross just got a copy of The Big Book of Shakespearean Quotations and tried to string as many as possible together to form each scene.

Instead of a savvy political satire, Ross instead has characters utter trite political observations that would only sound profound coming from the mouth of a middle schooler (such as “the party of know nothing” running in an election against “the party of do nothing”) or were woefully outdated (such as references to weapons of mass destruction, don’t ask don’t tell, birthers, or having a clueless head of state who easily confuses similar sounding words).

Instead of a smart deconstruction of Shakespeare’s plays (which would ask questions like, did Shakespeare lie to us about these characters? Did he have something to hide about them? Has time distorted our understandings of their personalities?) the audience had little more than pathetically contrived situations—the play within the play or the two queens fighting over Othello—that were shallow and heartless.

Ross’s script stumbles clumsily from one joke to the next or from one Shakespearean convention to another. There were mistaken identities, soliloquies, and royalty—and it felt like all of these were present for no dramatic reason other than, “The Bard did it.” Many jokes were unnecessary or were so obvious that I could see the punchline coming. However, many audience members (including the nice woman next to me) were laughing at many of the gags. But I quickly reached my limit of confused word puns (e.g., sedition and sedation, tourism and terrorism, and contraception and contradiction) and Shakespearean quotes as punchlines.

I think that my reaction to the script is best summed up by Ross’s own words, which she placed in the mouth of the Fool: “A whole squadron of angels could not save this play.” Perhaps the competent and talented cast, director, and production team aren’t angels, but even if they were, Lady Macbeth was beyond their help. Instead of a full production, I wish that Brutus and Cassius had given it the same treatment they gave Caesar. It certainly would have been less painful than what I saw at Plan-B on Wednesday night.

Plan-B Theatre Company’s production of Lady Macbeth plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, on Saturdays at 4 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM at the Studio Theatre in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (138 W. 300 S., Salt Lake City). Tickets are $20. For more information, visit