Review: “Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw”

 Three sisters in search of a narrative

MacB and MacD and Banquo

Idle Muse Theatre presents:

Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw
by Evan Jackson and Tristan Brandon
directed by Evan Jackson

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Three SistersThe witches in Idle Muse Theatre’s Shotgun Shakespeare: What the Weird Sisters Saw are certainly women on the verge. But on the verge of what, that is the question. Director Evan Jackson and co-writer Tristan Brandon have created a “prequel” to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, wherein the witches are the benign protagonists of the story. They perceive and pursue the events of the original play through visions and forces that displace the original narrative through space and time. The question is do they have any agency of their own or, at least, any agency that is clear and distinguishable to the audience?

Jackson and Brandon heavily depend upon the audience’s familiarity with the original play. They use the lines of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, only re-ordered as dialogue between the witches and other characters. I must say that, before this, I did not realize how much the original drama depended on the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language—and not simply in the pentameter of each line for each actor, as I had been trained, but also from character to character and scene to scene. All that is disjointed here–and it could be disjointed to a purpose, if such a purpose could be discerned by the audience.

MacB and Lady Let it be said that it takes audacity to put on a production like this; creators and cast can celebrate the risks that they are daring to take with a classic. Involving the witches as visionary onlookers and unwitting interlopers in the events of “the Scottish play” turns the tale on its head, compounds the evil that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are willing to engage in, and plunges the narrative into unremitting darkness. It breaks down the barriers of traditional Western storytelling–indeed, Western identity itself. It suggests that there exists no distinction between forces that influence us and the forces that we are in influencing others.

Jackson and Evans have stumbled inadvertently into Surrealism—the problem being that the operative word here is “inadvertently.” The witches are still following a timeline of their own. They do seem to make choices regarding how they will react to the visions they have seen. Sadly, too many times, the audience can lose the thread of the motivations for their actions or misperceive altogether that certain choices are being made when they are not. That’s not a good conundrum to throw an audience into. Tensions that the actors strive to build and release with a purpose, in the course of the production, are lost. The entire effect of the production comes close to disintegrating.

MacD It must be said that even a Surrealist rendering of this work still requires the training to speak Shakespeare’s words. Macbeth (Robert Negron) directs his final “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech to Morgan, the First Witch (Elizabeth MacDougald) with black futility and poignancy. Macduff (Bradley Woodward) effectively conveys the anguish at the loss of his family—no small achievement, when we have not seen it occur at this point in this production. But the dagger scene and Lady Macbeth’s (Stacy Sublette) sleepwalking scene still haven’t the consistency and power they would need even in the original. Other moments are truly inspired, such as the ritual the witches engage in prior to the end of act 1–you can feel the energy building in the playhouse.

Audiences should prepare for a challenging, incomplete, and uneven work. Can an argument be made here for potential—that is, the hope and promise of this play lies in what it could potentially be? To improve on it, perhaps the creators would have to resolve the question of what effect we can have, if any, against the darkness that surrounds us. Truly a question for our time, whether one does Macbeth in more traditional ways or not.

Rating: «½


Second Witch

Second Witch and Murderer

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