Iago and Portia predicting the death of Lady Macbeth. Photo: Rick Pollock
Blending Shakespeare: Aden Ross’ Mashup of Antique and Modern Fools
By Johnny Logan
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
–Hamlet, Act II, Scene II.
Plan B Theatre Company’s opening of Lady Macbeth in their 2011/12 theatrical season doesn’t just mark the 61st world premiere in the company’s history, it marks the opening of a season with all female playwrights. In a country where less than 10 percent of plays produced professionally are written by women, that’s saying something. In the interest of time, I’ll relax my feminist rant on that subject and continue with the article.
Written by local playwright Aden Ross, Lady Macbeth blends classic Shakespeare with the current political madness into an extraordinary satiric comedy. This is Ross’ 25th (produced) play, which she originally wrote because she “was so furious with [George W.] Bush. I really felt that every time the man opened his mouth, the national IQ dropped a few points. I was so furious that I decided I had to put all that somewhere, and instead of just ranting about it, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll write a play.’” Ross has been working on Lady Macbeth, and talking about it with director Jerry Rapier, since 2004, and the play has gone through some transformation since then. “I let it go and did other things. I said, ‘Okay, I’m done with Bush, Bush is done, maybe he’ll die. That would be great,’ all of that, but it didn’t work out that way… [and] recently I started rethinking Lady Macbeth … One of the sources of great consolation and education and ongoing self-revelation is Shakespeare, and of course Shakespeare has met Bush, he met Bush many, many, many times. What he did with Bush is turn him into a history play, or into a tragedy or into a comedy. So I got some inspiration there,” she says. After Bush left office, Ross realized, “We’re not really in much better shape than we were before,” and the final pieces of Lady Macbeth fell into place.
Rapier, who gets to choose the plays he directs, says he picked Lady Macbeth because, “I think it’s really funny. That’s basically it.” And funny it is. Lady Macbeth ties together eight of Shakespeare’s characters from six of his plays, creating a type of alternate universe where they all end up thrust upon each other. There’s, of course, Lady Macbeth from Macbeth (played by Michelle Peterson, in her third Aden Ross play); the Fool, mainly from King Lear, but who is also a combination of Shakespeare’s fools and clowns (played scene-stealing-ly by Jason Tatom); Othello from Othello (played by Joe Debevc); Iago from Othello (played by Jay Perry); Portia from Merchant of Venice (played by Tracie Merrill); Ophelia from Hamlet (played by Lauren Noll); Gertrude from Hamlet (played by April Fossen) and Malvolio from Twelfth Night (played by Kirt Bateman). “She [Ross] has totally hijacked all these Shakespearean characters to make a point,” says Rapier. I’m not sure if the classic familiarity of these characters makes the political message easier to deliver, but it certainly makes it funnier. Ross says, “I pick them up at different phases and then I reinvented endings for them … As I got more and more involved with the characters, they started to take me over, and they wanted to tell a very different story … They just charmed my socks off … Othello I tried to make less dumb, but I don’t think that’s really possible.” As long as you’re not obsessed with continuity within Shakespeare’s work, you’ll have no problem falling in love with Ross’ creation.
Plan B performed Lady Macbeth earlier this year as part of their Script-in-Hand series, and it was received wonderfully. “Most reassuringly, it was funny. It was funny to people who are Shakespeare aficionados, and it was funny to people who weren’t very familiar with Shakespeare. It functions either way,” says Rapier. “I was extremely happy to hear people laugh,” says Ross.
The set, true to Shakespearean roots, is simplistic in style and design. There are columns that vary as trees, because, as Rapier says, “[In Shakespeare,] things happen in the woods and things happen in the court.” The only other things on stage are a few benches and a cart. “A fancy little cart that does a lot of things,” says Rapier, and he’s not joking around. That cart has some serious Optimus Prime transformation skills.
In between scenes, the silence is filled with the music of Vitamin String Quartet, a group from Los Angeles that plays classical versions of modern music. If you have any inclination toward stringed instruments, you’ll be addicted instantly.
“[Shakespeare’s] influence on English speaking culture particularly is inescapable,” says Rapier. Given that I own at least three complete works of Shakespeare, including an article titled “The Growing and Perpetual Influence of Shakespeare,” I don’t see how I could argue with the statement. Ross, who taught English and Theater at several Utah Colleges and Universities for over 25 years, including several classes dealing specifically with Shakespeare, wouldn’t argue either. She says, “Fools are always my favorite,” and she appreciates how easily one can interject a more modern voice into them. “To borrow a line from Battlestar Galactica, ‘Everything has happened before, and everything will happen again,’” says Rapier.
Lady Macbeth runs October 27 – November 6, Thurs.–Fri. at 8 p.m., Sat. at 4 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner.