Spine: ‘Mack, Beth’ a ‘Macbeth’ for the Cyber Age at Keegan Theatre

Mack, Beth by Chris Stezin, now playing at The Keegan Theatre, is a Macbeth for the Cyber Age. Set in a world where death by dagger is replaced by death by fake news, Mack, Beth makes a person’s brand more important than anything more tangible, more than eating or breathing or loving your children. It takes a person’s celebrity image, and when it suffers a fatal blow, the victim all but disappears, leaving only its ghost.

Josh Sticklin, Emily Cerwonka, Izzy Smelkinson, and Tyasia Velines. Photo by Photo by Cameron Whitman.

The degree to which this corporate Mack, Beth works as a re-imagined Shakespeare original is the degree to which playwright Stezin keeps his story focused on that fascinating premise. When the focus wavers, and the daggers slice or dice and the blood flows, then all we have is Shakespeare without the poetry, or the madness, or the fate of nations.

For surely, in today’s world of hack and meme actual murder has become passé, nothing more than the crude instrument of the technologically challenged. Virtual murder is where the professionals live and breathe.

Destroy a leader’s reputation as Mack (Andrew Keller) and Beth (Jennifer J. Hopkins) do when CEO Robert Duncan (William Aitken) wakes up one hung-over morning with underage sex photographed onto his iPhone and you do not need an assassin.

Look no further than our current politics and its clear that our opposition parties do not have to hire hit-men to eliminate the competition. Opposition research, a spin-doctor, a false report, and any career can be over at any time.

It’s the Information Age: E might have equaled Mc2 in the good-old-days, but now you have to add the “i”, as in add the information, into any calculus of life in the multiverse.

And that little “i” changes everything.

Plus, it’s far more effective and a lot less bloody to manipulate the facts or outright fabricate them. And it’s not just shadowy Russian operators who mass produce “the lie”.

Hence, in Mack, Beth we no longer have those witches on the road; instead, Stezin has given us three Geeks (Emily Cerwonka, Izzy Smelkinson, and Tyasia Velines) by the coffee bar. Stezin’s Geeks might not have the pizzazz of information theory laced through their verbiage, as in “Double, double toil and trouble,” i.e., witch’s speak, but when they hit zany and cryptic everyone gets the message.

Autumn Seavey Hicks, Josh Sticklin, Jennifer J. Hopkins, and Andrew Keller. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

After all, if you turn the CEO of Duncan Enterprises into a scumbag who cannot be trusted with your children, then market share will surely drop. And when market share drops, investors get nervous and corporate boards drop their CEOs on a fast train to invisibility.

And Mack becomes King; and Beth, his Queen.

For information is more powerful than M-16s.

Or is it?

Iraq War Vet, James Shaw (Josh Sticklin) seems to counter that “modern age” narrative. When Duncan brings him onto the company payroll, he brings on an old fashioned sort of guy, with military training.

Unfortunately, here is where the writing gets flabby and the storytelling by Director Matt Ripa is not as taut as it needs to be.

The motivation, the madness, and the manipulation aren’t quite as focused as they need to be. And I was never exactly sure why these characters were doing what they are doing.

A little more information, or theory, is what this play is begging for.

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.

‘Mack, Beth’ at The Keegan Theatre reviewed by Julia Hurley.

Interview: Playwright Chris Stezin on ‘Mack, Beth,’ Playing Now at The Keegan Theatre by Ravelle Brickman.


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