“Look to the lady!” one of the court members cries as the actress falls to the floor. But the appropriate response would be to ask, “Which one?” There are eight leading ones in the production of The M Game currently playing at the 14th Street Y, and choosing between them is a difficult task.
Adapted by Julianne Just The M Game is a re-imaging of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, focusing on the female influence in the title character’s life and actions. The pivotal character of Lady Macbeth is played by five different actresses, each one representing a different aspect of her personality. One is haughty and regal, one is sensual and sultry, one is quiet and remorseful, one is wild-eyed and outlandish, and one is innocent and sweet, hesitant to act violently – and pregnant with Macbeth’s child. All of them communicate and interact with Macbeth, splitting the Lady’s lines as befits their personalities. They are played by Mattie Whipple, Christina Shipp, Lindsay Strachan, Joyce Wu and Genevieve Gearheart and they are all captivating.
This execution results in some interesting changes to traditional interpretations of the show, including Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene being approached differently. After suffering a miscarriage, presumably resulting from the stress and guilt of her husband’s actions, she delivers the monologue while bathing the blood of her miscarriage off of her legs. The “damn spots” are not actually King Duncan’s blood, but her own.
And then there are the other three women in Macbeth’s life – the weird sisters who lurk in the forest and predict Macbeth’s future. Played by Naomi Finkelstein, Miriam Lind and Cynthia Osuji, and they do their best to live up to their title, whirling and whooping around the stage, accompanying their chants about Macbeth with foot-stomping and clapping. The trio of actresses also doubles as men later in the show, but it is their performances as the witches that truly stand out. The pivotal role that women play in Macbeth’s story is undeniable, and that is enhanced even more in this production: during the chant “Double, double, toil and trouble,” not only the witches, but the wives, join hands and circle Macbeth as they chant.
Each of the women onstage presents a forceful and dynamic performance, and each are compelling to watch. However, this success comes at a cost, and the person bearing that cost is Scott MacKenzie. His Macbeth pales in comparison to these vibrant women surrounding him. His character, one of the most fascinating in Shakespeare’s repertoire, appears blasé and even predictable. He delivers the majority of his lines staring straight ahead, hands at his sides. What should be contemplation is simply discussion, torment is merely confusion.
The increasing isolation of Macbeth is visualized in a coldly efficient set that creatively moves from the woods to the castle to Macbeth’s chamber. A few benches and one throne are all that adorn the stage, and, enhanced with skillful use of lighting, conceptualize the shifts of tone and mood throughout the show. The characters’ costumes also aid in this effort. Wisely, they are simple and minimal, with a few differences enhancing their distinctions. The five wives wear the same color, but with a different cut and accessory. This comes to full fruition during a weirdly brilliant dance scene at Macbeth’s coronation. The execution could be interpreted in many ways, but the effect is ominous and eerie, regardless.
However, despite the good intentions and effective aesthetics of the show, the actual execution of its concept is flawed and in the end, incomplete. The emphasis is laid so heavily on the influences of Macbeth that the outcomes appear short-sighted. Some lines crucial lines are lost in this production, and many scenes feel haphazard. They are saved by the extremely talented supporting cast, including Jarett Karlsberg and Clinton Lowe. What these actors are capable of achieving with few lines and little time is truly remarkable.
Gender and identity, a theme heavily examined in Macbeth, with Lady Macbeths asking her husband, “What kind of man art thou?” and begging the gods to “unsex her.” These frequent references to “masculine” strength and “being a man” are especially poignant now, with a woman running a powerhouse campaign for a political office that has only been held by men. The M Game explores what influence takes place behind the scenes, and it does that effectively. One can’t help but wonder if Bill and Hillary’s bedchamber exchanges ever echoes Macbeth and his wife’s.