Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Tuesday, July 14 at 9:45 p.m. Thursday, July 16 at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 10:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 at 4:15 p.m.

They say: Max’s concept (a comic, cross-gendered Macbeth) has created enough buzz to inspire a documentary. However, the concept does not sit well with the cast nor with the creator. There may be hell to pay.

Peter’s take: All the Fringe is a stage, and many of those stages are filled with permutations of Shakespeare. King’s PlayersMacWHAT?! is just one of this year’s variations on the play that dare not speak its name.

The 85-minute production is essentially a backstage farce. The concept is “The Concept” — fictional director Max’s idea of a gender-reversed Macbeth played as a comedy. (Max is played by real director Timothy R. King.)

The audience enters Lab II at Atlas to see the actors already on stage, stretching and doing vocal warmups and stumbling through a fight call. We are then informed that we, the audience, are actually a documentary film crew making a film about Max’s bold production. This conceit weighs down the proceedings. Occasional talking head video clips of the actors speaking to the documentarians add little, and the fourth wall is rarely broken otherwise.

King’s, or Max’s, comedic additions to Shakespeare’s text also fall short. These consist mainly of the actors adopting cartoonish hip-hop stances from time to time. For most of the show, Max does not seem to have altered the original play at all, leaving one to wonder just what this comedic Macbeth was meant to look like.

The real humor in MacWHAT?! comes when King lets his show simply be a comedy about actors of various competence stumbling through a great work. This is familiar territory for the King’s Players, which did a gender-swapped Macbeth at Fringe two years ago with many of the same actors, and this troupe works and plays well together.

Brittany Morgan is a standout as Olivia, who plays Macduff. Morgan has the difficult task of portraying bad acting well, and Olivia is delightfully monotone. (King has Morgan perform a good stretch of the show in her underwear, which the script justifies, but which feels gratuitous and undercuts Morgan’s comedic skill.) Jane Gibbins-Harding is also strong as Susie, an overenthusiastic first-time stage manager.

Emily Canavan plays the Scottish king, and King wisely lets her play it straight; Canavan makes a pretty decent Mackers. Others are limited by narrowly drawn characters; the talented Jacinda Bronaugh’s Alison is defined mainly by her compulsion to perform in the nude, while Nikki Gerber’s Cynthia is given little to do but mug in the background.

Kimberly Pyle is a bright spot as Chelsea, the dancer playing Banquo who would rather be at Synetic. Pyle is graceful and poised even when her ballet is played for laughs. Mitch Irzinski has fun as two of the Witches in the play-within-the-play, but his actor character Jack comes off as forced.

The last 10 minutes of MacWHAT?! offers an abridged version of Act V of Macbeth played straight, which lets the actors show off some impressive dramatic chops. Most of this company has both dramatic and comedic skill, but in the case of this show, they are weighed down by The Concept.

In a mid-show rant, director Max says the worst thing an audience member can say about a production is that it was merely “okay.” I am sorry to have to disappoint him.

See it if: You like your Bard bawdy and broad.

Skip it if: You would rather not peek behind the theatrical curtain.

Photo courtesy of King’s Players