by Matt Ashare
McBeth!, from the play by William Shakespeare. adapted and directed by D.W. Ferranti. Original music by Jim Jones. Lyrics by Ferranti and Jones. Music performed by Joint Chiefs. Video footage by Ben Brigham. Lighting designed by Tony Maciag, Marc Janowitz and Jeremie Lozier. Costumes by Robin Ducot. With James Felix McKenney, Fran Pado, Suzanne Mcllvenna, Lynette Estes, Christine Pelletier, Alisdair Manson, Paul Scott, Mikey Dee, Gary Quinton, Wilder Selzer, Ad Frank, Dean Fisher, Blue Lewis, Brad Scobie, Winston Braman, Linda Bean P., Hilken Mancini, Don Wood, Hutch, Declan Geraghty, Jared Mazzaschi, Colin Price, Rich Casey, Ken Zimmerman, Jay Vente, Robbie Alterio, and D.W.Ferranti. Presented by Acme Theatr at the Lansdowne Street Playhouse.
By the middle of the first scene ofAcme Theatr's new musical, McBeth,
it's clear that the show's creators didn't have the audience in mind when
they subtitled the production "Shakespeare for the reading-impaired."
The characters in this irreverent adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth are quite another story. Whereas the prose they speak remains that of the Elizabethan original, their accents, dress,and low roller atti- tude screams Southie in terms only a Bostonian could fully appreciate. The main character is "Mac friggin' Beth", Thane of Quincy and Charlestown a made man in a shiny satin Celtics team Jacket who guzzles Bud tall-boys as he murders his way to the top of the regional mob ranks. And if words like "thee, n "thou," and "didst" don't quite roll off his tongue, it shouldn't come as any surprise. As one of the Thane's goons puts it after a particularly dense onslaught of Shakespearean prose: "What the hell is he talking about?
Under the direction of D.W. Ferranti, and with the help of bandleader/lyricist Jim Jones and his group Joint Chiefs, Acme Theatr has in the past adapted Dickens's A Christmas Carol , and the Greek myth of Prometheus to its unique rock-play format. In each case, an original text was crossed with unlikely strains of pop-culture kitsch, from comic- book superheroes in Prometheus to rock gods like Kiss in Christmas Carol, and presented in a relatively gritty Brechtian setting.
Mafioso gangster films from the Scorsese/Coppola canon provide the seeds for Ferranti's latest creation, which casts Shakespeare's noblemen as mobsters and the tragedy of Macbeth as a "who-iced- who" comedy. (Oliver Stone's screenplay for De Palma's Scarface also painted MacBeth as a gangster, but with none of Ferranti's wonderful absurdist humor.)
Some purists won't be amused by the impious spin Ferranti puts on one of the Bard's masterworks. And the show's relaxed, low-budget approach may at first be off-putting to the serious theater-goer. But Ferranti and his inspired cast do a lot with very little. And if Sir lan McKellen and director Richard Loncraine can move Richard III from the 15th century to an imaginary fascist England in the '30s-with, I might add, some unintentionally humorous results (i.e., Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth) --- then why not relocate Macbeth's castle to Dorchester? Indeed, just hearing Shakespeare's iambic pentameter spoken by characters who'd have a tough time with the Cliffs Notes is part of what makes the production such a kick. (Taking into account that Shakespeare often placed hifalutin dialogue in the mouths of idiots like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing for comic effect, one might even imagine that Willy would approve of Ferranti's approach.)
The more familiar you are with Macbeth, the more you'll appreciate what Ferranti does. Who else has been gutsy enough to highlight Shakespeare's fondness for the knock-knock joke? Ferranti can't resist. He's also bold enough to go for a few cheap yet satisfying laughs by injecting some contemporary language into the Elizabethan text. Lady McBeth, for example, elegantly inserts the line "I have slipped them mickeys" into the "That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold" speech. And the witches-who arrive in a cloud of Aquanet hair spray, dress as if they were heading out to the Revere Beach strip, and sing like heavy-metal vixens-end their encounter with Hecate with a slight variation on the original couplet, to wit "She'll soon be back I fear/Hey, she took my beer." The dialogue is peppered with references to events like the shooting at the Charlestown 99 Restaurant and films like Pulp Fiction. (In Providence, we're told, they call a quarter-pounder with cheese a McBeth with cheese.) Fortunately, Ferranti doesn't let the two-hour production degenerate into a total gag-fest. The cast, who include members of the local rock bands Fuzzy, Butterscott, and Miles Dethmuffen, play it relatively straight. A spoof it is, though, and a damn good one. Or, to paraphrase Mcbeth, it's a tale told by a friggin' idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nuthin'. But that shouldn't stop us from en- joying ourselves every now and again.