What’s in a name? What’s in a family? What is history? What is time?
I may or may not have just finished reading a certain author from the south and everything is up for grabs.
There are those books on the Mad Men reading list I’m curious to read (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Last Picture Show) those I may not have wanted to read at all (Atlas Shrugged), and those I’m completely stoked to read.
Woman of Rome, Crying of Lot 49, and (even though I’ve read it before) the Sound and the Fury are among the latter.
Let’s set the scene and find out how one of the 20th century’s finest novels wound up in one of the 21st century’s finest shows.
While there are no gripes here about modern interpretations, different takes and whimsically inspired remakes of Shakespeare plays, there is something entirely satisfying about straight up productions.
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Take the meandering path to the Bard on the Beach tents at Vanier Park, and enter the witches brew of all tragedies found deep in the bogs of Scotland: Macbeth is on, the Scottish play, and you should check it out.
Director Chris Abraham went straight up performance and passion for this take on the bloody and brooding play, and it’s pulled off to great effect.
Casting is on point with Ben Carlson (Macbeth) nicely balancing madness, ambition, regret and power alongside the equally ambitious, unstable and ultimately tragic Lady Macbeth, played with skill and style by Moya O’Connell.
I took my 12-year-old nephew to the play hoping he would get a kick out of some live theatre, while at the same time being a bit nervous he would find it scary or disturbing. I don’t have kids, so never really know what parents think about these things. Oh well. He came. He loved it.
Note: take your kids to Shakespeare plays. They will enjoy.
Things needed to make the Scottish play work well: quality lead couple, cool witches, good choreography, believable death scenes, and a severed head if you have it. This one had them all. Well done.
Though I’ve read and seen the play multiple times (including one unfortunate production in high school that left me feeling very sad for the actors, who my brat classmates kept mocking aloud), Abraham’s staging and the performances kept me on the edge of my seat hoping, hoping, hoping against what I knew that certain decisions were not made that way. It’s such a great play.
Of course no amount of stage style matters in this play if the two leads don’t have chemistry. O’Connell and Carlson embrace the challenge. They are ravenous for each other as they desperately cling to each other and their power with tragic passion.
BOB has extended this play through September. Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow to see it or it shall be gone in a brief shadow.
As Daniel pointed out, we’re reading the hella slick “Backstage Edition,” a hardcover edition of all twelve issues of Kill Shakespeare. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking it up here. May as well pick up the other volumes while you’re at it. And while you’re shopping, why not load up on some Kill Shakespeare t-shirts.
On an unrelated note, Christmas is coming up in a few weeks…
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”
– Hamlet, III.i
Hamlet’s still confused about what’s going on in issue 5. He’s still convinced that Richard III is a good guy and that Juliet, Othello and the rebels are disruptive elements of the benign king’s just rule. Also, Iago just saved Hamlet’s life so he’s still pretty convinced that Iago’s on his side. Juliet and Othello aren’t buying any of it though. And Othello’s pretty mad, bro.
It’s hard to take Hamlet and Falstaff seriously of course as they’re still walking around in dresses after their getaway in the last issue but what’s Shakespeare without cross-dressing?
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth and Richard are negotiating. He wants the use of her Black Guard troops but she’s not budging: she’s planning to keep them stationed in her lands. She’s smokin’ hot but Radcliff’s right – she’s trouble for sure.
Hamlet tries to run off in the middle of the night with Iago but Juliet spots him and tells him he’s got to go on alone if he wants to leave. So off he goes and wanders into a walking nightmare. Hamlet sees his father’s image go all zombie undead, pulling at his skin and growing snakes out of his flesh.
That drives him a little nuts but he comes to his senses as he wanders right unto a scene of Don John and Richard’s conies beating up some townsfolk to find out where Hamlet’s hiding. Don John even cuts out Shallow’s tongue and, like a wuss, Hamlet hides in the bushes until they pass.
When Juliet and company arrive in Shrewsbury, they are told not to stick around seeing as the fear of Richard’s men might make someone rat them out. Seems like some good advice.
Finally, Hamlet eventually falls and knocks himself out in the woods trying to run away from Don John and his troops. He’s found by Lysander, Demetrius and Adriana who are on their way to Shrewsbury. Along the way, they drop some truth about their beneficent King Richard.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.”
– Julius Caesar, III.ii
Turns out that crazy walking nightmare wasn’t just some bad food but was some sort of spell cast by Lady Macbeth and the weird sisters. (You know, the ones who tell Macbeth he’s be king one day but that Banquo’s kids will take over from him.) In this version, it seems like Lady M’s tapping into their juju to mess with Hamlet (and Skype with Iago, eventually).
In Shrewsbury, Iago’s messing with Othello’s mind by playing nice but “accidentally” saying stuff to set him off. And Juliet and Falstaff find Hamlet sleeping in some stables and guilt him into working the fields to pay for his free lunch.
While they work, Adriana drops some hints to Hamlet who’s totally clueless (Hey dude! Wake up! She wants to “care for thy coat!,” know what I’m saying?) But Hamlet’s too busy being emo Hamlet on account of his being a wuss earlier and not fighting Don John to save the peasant’s tongue.
Ooops! Guess that was a little loud. Seems like Don John and co. hear that, too and now they’ve got the place surrounded and have started beating up on folks!
This time, Hamlet’s ready to throw down though and he clubs a guard in the head. A rumble breaks out and Juliet brains Don John. Even Iago gets in on the action and after they win the fight, beer and food for all.
Oh, and it turns out that Iago’s been serving Lady Macbeth this whole time because he, too, has been hypnotised by her gratuitously giant comic book boobs. (I mean just like Richard, not me. I don’t get hypnotised by cartoon boobs.)
Characters added: no one, but Don John is dead, which is a nice bonus!
“[…]I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
– Hamlet, II.ii
So Iago’s been using his own magic to Skype with Lady Macbeth who is totally willing to keep using the promise of her body to get stupid men to do stupid things. This isn’t like real life at all, guys.
It’s Twelfth Night in Shrewsbury (well, everywhere else in England too, I would imagine) and Juliet and company are convinced to stick around for a play staged by Feste and Sir Toby Belch. Or just plain Belch here.
Hamlet finally gets a clue and dances with Adriana but the dance is interrupted by the start of the play. Feste’s asking for an audience member to join them on stage.
Feste: “No, not you. No… Ah, Hamlet. Shadow King. You’ll do. Get your ass up here! Here’s a costume.”
Hamlet” What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Feste: “Oh, it’s just an old play called the Murder of King Hamlet. Errr, I mean,Gonzago. The murder of Gonzago. You get to be the murderer. Fun, right?”
Hamelt: “GAHHHHHHHH!” (Exit stage right, running and screaming)
Feste: “Was it something I said?”
Of course, the Murder of Gonzago mirrors the Mousetrap play in Hamlet. This one retells the story of the murder of Hamlet’s father by his brother Claudius. But the names are different so how did Hamlet figure it out? Must be because he’s always making everything about him.
So where does he end up when he runs off? In a crazy, trippy house of mirrors of course. Could there by some symbolism going on? Anyhow, Juliet’s worried about him so she runs off after him and discovers him going all emo again about his dad. So she confides in him about how her lover Romeo (I’ve heard that name before…) killed himself because he thought she was dead but she was just knocked out by some special totally creepy knock-out juice that made her sleep for 2 days.
Hey wait! I thought Juliet died in R&J? Yup. But she gets saved in this version just before she stabs herself and ends up leading the rebellion.
Then cue full-page image of Juliet and Hamlet on either sides of a wall, all Pyramus and Thisby style, talking through a wall and commiserating.
“O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.”
– Twelfth Night, II.iii
Hamlet and the others run into Morton. (Not to be confused with this Morton.) He was discovered spying for the rebellion and just barely managed to escape. Falstaff’s had enough of Hamlet’s waffling and declares that it’s time to find Shakespeare and get all this shit fixed.
In the mean time, Iago and Othello are training the resistance militia. Iago is giving some advice on how to beat stronger opponents like Othello. Seems that some of the advice is doing a number on Othello who gets his butt whipped and then walks off. Iago’s doublespeak is starting to twist and turn him and Othello starts his own #guiltfest.
Didn’t he shaft Iago when he passed him over for a promotion? Maybe murdering his wife Desdemona was all his fault and not Iago’s? And maybe Othello’s just a cool blooded killer anyhow?
Hamlet’s standing on his balcony musing about this whole Shadow King stuff when Juliet calls down from below and then climbs up to him. Some more clever R&J reversal. And finally they make out! The next morning, Falstaff, Iago and Hamlet set out towards… somewhere, to find Shakespeare.
Remember how Lady Macbeth was holding the Black Guard in reserve? Yeah, well Richard kinda went behind her back and invited them and their leader Philip the Bastard to join him in fighting the rebels. Pwnd!
Iago and Falstaff are poking fun at Hamlet about this whole Juliet thing when they are accosted along the road by a bunch of well-armed and armoured paladins or holy warriors. They’re not really buying this Shadow King stuff so their leader steps forward and asks Hamlet to prove it.
Who’s their leader? Romeo Montague, much less dead that previously reported.
Characters added: Philip the Bastard, Orsino, Romeo
Courtesy – IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing
What happens next? Well, I know but you should probably pick up the graphic novel to find out for yourself. But if you’re willing to wait, we’ll eventually tell you when we cover issues 9 through 12.
“We’re not bad people, Mac. We’re just underachievers that need to make up for lost time.” – Pat McBeth.
If Maura Tierney said that to me, I’d probably be okay with killing my jerk of a boss too. Tierney plays Pat McBeth, writer/director Billy Morrisette’s Lady MacBeth in Scotland, PA, his unusual adaptation of the Bard’s Scottish classic Macbeth.
A lot of guys will do crazy things for love, but James LeGros’s “Mac” (Macbeth) certainly takes it the extra mile. Tierney is the type of hot, cool chick with a wicked streak that a lot of guys would probably do unspeakable things for (not that I ever did). Sure she can be a bit crazy and mean, but she’s got a certain appeal for men looking for something more than the typical girly chick. She’s the type of girl who could chug more beers than your pals. The type of girl who doesn’t mind having sex in the back room of a fast food joint. The type of girl that brightens up your life and you’d do anything for because you want to keep her happy and you don’t want to screw it up. Mac, poor hapless schmuck that he is, gets sucked into her scheme to move up the fast food chain at the local burger joint where they both work.
Morrisette relocates the play from the castles and moors of Scotland to a thriving restaurant in a sleepy Pennsylvanian suburb in the 70s, which means the soundtrack is going to be chock full of classic rock hits. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are from Bad Company, but despite the lack of variety, it’s still appreciated. If you don’t like the movie, you’ll probably enjoy the music at least.
The burger joint is run by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). He’s a bit of dorky dad, trying to push his sons into taking over the family business, although they seem more interested in being rock stars or exploring their sexuality than managing their father’s legacy. Norm steals good ideas from the underappreciated Mac, who actually works hard at his job and does have an interest in taking over the restaurant. Norm is about to take Mac’s best idea, a drive-through window, and make a huge profit. Does he thank Mac? Apparently not enough or there would be no movie. He makes one of his disinterested sons into a manager instead of Mac, which is really the last straw for this struggling burger flipper and his wife. Tired of getting passed over, Mac and Pat take matters into their own hands, leading to one of the most ridiculous and hilarious ways to dispatch a character in Shakespeare’s history. Without giving too much away, it involves a deep fryer.
The film’s most interesting characters are Mac and Pat, while the others are broadly drawn spins on Shakespeare’s characters. They will make you laugh, but it’s hard to invest in any of them. So when they start getting killed off as Mac slaughters his way to the top, you just kind of shrug. So it goes.
Christopher Walken has an interesting turn as Lieutenant MacDuff who investigates Norm’s death after Mac and Pat take over the restaurant and turn it into McDonalds style fast-food joint. Walken plays typical Walken, amusing and menacing at the same time. While he puts some pressure on the main characters with his presence, he isn’t really much of a foil. The last battle between him and Mac lacks drama, and while I wasn’t expecting an epic sword fight, it seems a bit anticlimactic.
There are plenty of clever spins on scenes and characters in the original story in Scotland, PA, and each of the changes fit the setting in the film. Yes, Lady Macbeth/Pat has something that won’t come off her hands, but it isn’t blood. And the three witches are in there, but they’ve been transformed into three stoners who hang around an amusement park. One of them (Amy Smart), dresses like a fortune teller, promising Mac future glory in the restaurant business.
Scotland, PA is more of a dark comedy than anything else, but it’s perhaps only funny for the serious Shakespeare fan. Other than that, aside from a few fun scenes, it’s fairly unremarkable, which is why it might be hard to find on DVD. It lacks the drama and tragedy of the original story, which makes it difficult to invest in the outcome of events. You can invest in the love story between Mac and Pat, who strive to achieve success as underachievers.
It’s a Macbeth adaptation that is about more than ruthless ambition. Mac may be interested in becoming a big shot, but he does everything because he loves Pat and wants to make her happy. While Pat may come across as manipulative, she sees her husband struggling and wants more for him and for herself. She wants to live the good suburban life, full of big houses, flashy cars and swimming pools.
It seems odd to set Macbeth in a burger joint, since killing your way to owning a restaurant pales in comparison to becoming King of Scotland, but it works within the setting of 1970s America – the Me Decade. The characters in the film are so well established that you understand that taking over this restaurant and making it into a successful business means as much to them as becoming King. They are down and out, slaving away in their menial jobs and drinking themselves into a stupor in some suburb like every other poor sap and for a brief moment, they see a chance to take their piece of the American Dream. Would you really blame them for trying?
Jay Reid is the Bard Brawl social media co-ordinator and contributor to its blog and podcast. His short film Byline is in post-production and due out later this year.