Theater review by Raven Snook
Equally giggly and grisly, Erica Schmidt's unnerving adaptation of Macbeth for Red Bull Theater features seven young actresses performing Shakespeare's tragedy as uniform-clad schoolgirls in an abandoned lot. The language is mostly the Bard's, albeit pared down to one whirlwind act. The sensibility, however, is decidedly contemporary, as these hyperactive drama queens get lost in a gruesome fantasy world that casts some of them as villains and others as victims.
Mac Beth alternates between heightened high jinks and chilling violence. At first, you may chuckle at these bad girls’ adolescent antics—squealing, taking selfies with pink cell phones, sucking on Ring Pops, stomping around to Beyoncé's "Bow Down"—even as Macbeth (Isabelle Fuhrman of The Hunger Games, working hard) and her wife (standout Ismenia Mendes) go on an ambition-fueled rampage of destruction. But the remaining five actors play all the other parts, sometimes confusingly; aside from the three Witches (AnnaSophia Robb, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick and Sharlene Cruz) and Macduff (a heartbreaking Lily Santiago), the characters are insufficiently delineated, and the poetry is often dulled by lack of nuance.
The production works better when it veers into horror territory. (Schmidt's inspiration is the 2014 Slender Man case in Wisconsin, when two 12-year-old girls stabbed a classmate.) During a furious rainstorm, the Weird Sisters stir gnarly science-lab detritus and even used tampons into their witches' brew; the ghost of Banquo (Ayana Workman) jerks around like a zombie; the climactic murder of Macbeth is truly nauseating. The bloody savagery that these fresh-faced girls are capable of inflicting on each other is hard to wash off your mind.
Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Erica Schmidt. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission. [Note: The production returns for a run at Hunter College beginning January 6, 2020.]