Chris Stezin’s adaptation of Macbeth, presented by Director Matt Ripa at The Keegan Theatre, is a daring attempt to bring one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies into the modern day. In this version, titled Mack, Beth, the king is Robert Duncan, founder and CEO of a massive tech empire. William Mackllraith and his wife Elizabeth, the eponymous “Mack” and “Beth,” plot to wrest the company away from Robert after he declines to give Mack sole control over a newly acquired company. In this version, we discover that you don’t need to murder your enemies—you just need to destroy them.
Stezin’s adaptation condenses the cast of the original into fewer characters, but introduces more female roles into the story. William Aitken plays Robert, masterfully portraying both the all-powerful CEO who keeps his empire close, and the broken shell of a man Mack turns him into. In this version, Robert also has a wife, Maryanne (Sarah Holt), who has concerns about her husband’s drinking. The characters of Banquo and Macduff are concentrated into James Shaw, Robert’s nephew, who may be a rival in Mack’s quest to gain control over the company.
Shaw’s wife, Donna (Autumn Seavey Hicks), gains a bigger role as well. Her quiet, unassuming ways are a stark contrast to Jennifer J. Hopkins’ provocative Beth Mackllraith, who schemes and seduces her way through the play. Hopkins plays the seduction perfectly, entrancing the men around her, but at times it is unclear what her objective is. A major source of drama in the play is the sexual tension between Beth and James. But while she states at the beginning that she is trying to get James on her side “just in case,” it is ultimately unclear what she is after—their will-they-or-won’t-they takes up much of the initial action, but is forgotten once the “real” action of the second act gets rolling.
Beth comes up with the idea to drug Robert at a party and frame him with compromising pictures with a young girl, but it is Mack who has to go through with it when she loses her nerve. Robert becomes, essentially, a walking dead man, having lost his will to live. This proves to be the most effective part of Stezin’s adaptation into modern times: in today’s world, where technology ensures that one’s mistakes will be around forever, scandal is more permanent than death.
Less effective are the witches, here re-imagined as stereotypically hipster “geeks” who hang around the café in Mack’s building waiting to wow him with their insights gained from browsing the internet. The three geeks (Izzy Smelkinson, Tyasia Velines, and Emily Cerwonka) have their funny moments. But the way these three unemployed young women seemingly have nothing better to do than sit around in a café and hack the accounts of people who annoy them, but also somehow have the ability to predict the future intrigues of Robert’s company, is a little overly convenient. Rounding out the cast is Karin Rosnizeck’s Vida, the Mackllraiths’ housekeeper, who plays a key role in the plot to ruin Robert.
Scenic Designer Matthew Keenan’s all-white, multi-level set evokes the idea of a modern-day castle, with sleek lines and a balcony that is the object of Mack and Beth’s desire, begging the question, “What would you pay for a view like that.” Paintings that look like blood spatter hang on the walls, foreshadowing dark deeds to come.
Costume Designer Julie Cray Leong’s idea to dress Mack and Beth almost exclusively in black and red serves to illustrate both their dark hearts and their connection to each other in this plot, contrasting with the Shaws’ more innocent blue and green tones. Katie McCreary’s lighting works particularly well with Sound Designer Gordon Nimmo Smith’s scene transitions, providing brief, nonverbal montages of action and showing the passage of time. Casey Kaleba’s fight choreography was most effective during Mack’s final confrontation with James, with red blood splattering against the white tiles below the balcony.
Matt Ripa’s production of Mack, Beth is entertaining and filled with twists and turns. This new work does successfully make the point that the lust for power at the expense of everyone and everything else is just as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s time.
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, plus one 15-minute intermission.
Mack, Beth plays through February 11, 2017 at The Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.
Interview: Playwright Chris Stezin on ‘Mack, Beth,’ Playing Now at The Keegan Theatre by Ravelle Brickman.
Julia, You really nailed it! I agree entirely–especially the witches–but am glad that you were the one to say it! Ravelle