Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2004
Living with Lady Macbeth is the sort of play written for young actors to perform for an audience of their peers. And, as luck would have it, this is the play the Drury Drama Team has selected to take to the 11th Annual International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, later this month, where it will be one of more than fifty productions presented by secondary schools from throughout North America and abroad. The Festival also offers a full schedule of workshops presented by theatre professionals, individual performance events, a student playwriting program, opportunities to audition for college and university representatives and for Thespian scholarships, and a chance to hang out with 2,000 or so other Thespians. What fun!
Being a curmudgeonly theatre critic, I usually don’t like this kind of writing, but Rob John, author of Living with Lady Macbeth, has taken an interesting approach to a well-worn subject, and the members of the Drama Team, under the direction of Mike Grogan have mounted a polished performance. This particular series of performances are being presented under the Mill City Productions banner in their performance space in the Parish House of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Mill City was formed by many Drama Team Alumni, and it is nice to see these young adults turning around to give a hand-up to the next generation of local actors.
Living with Lady Macbeth tells the story of high school senior Lily Morgan (Sarah Simon) who is dying to play Lady Macbeth in her school’s production of the Scottish play. Lily is average. She gets average grades, is considered average looking at best, and has never done anything remarkable. She has a geeky best friend named Monica (Sam Therrien), Mon for short, and a way-too-perfect little sister, Alexis (Cathy Cooper).
Lily has never done any acting before. There is a gang of five “perfect” girls – Suzanne Porter (Mollie Simon), Lorraine Fergison (Lauren Skiffington), Caroline Pritchett (Kimberly Rose), Gail Bently (Staci Downey), and Stephanie Boyce (Haylee Jones) - in the school who dominate in the social, athletic, dramatic, and academic arenas. They don’t see Lily as even a possible addition to their circle. Even the drama teacher Ms. Mavis (Jackie DeGiorgis) and Lily’s boyfriend Barry (Jon King) don’t understand why Lily wants to try out so badly. They see her as doomed to failure.
But Lily, like Lady Macbeth, is a woman with her eye fixed on a solitary ambition. She loves Lady Macbeth. She understands Lady Macbeth. In many ways, she becomes Lady Macbeth as she prepares for the audition – hence the title of the play. What makes Lily identify so strongly with this power-mad, blood-thirsty, unstoppable character, is that she is everything that Lily is not, and secretly is. Lily is struggling to move from being an obedient child to a strong and independent woman.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – I Corinthians 13: 11 (KJV)
This is the journey of adolescence. Part of that journey is learning to cope with the feelings of anger, frustration, and inadequacy that are an inevitable part of life. And another part is evolving into your own person, finding what you are good at and what you are not good at. Learning who you want to be and how you want others to perceive you.
Using Shakespeare to express the adolescent journey is nothing new, but Lady Macbeth is usually not the role model selected. As Barry says to Lily plaintively, “Why don’t you want to play Juliet?” Because Juliet is a girl, not a woman. She is still under the thumb of her parents, her nurse, and the church. Lady Macbeth is absolutely independent and ruthless. Juliet is everything Lily is trying to escape. Lady Macbeth is the other extreme. Lily reaches for her in hopes of finding her own middle ground, and she succeeds.
Lily uses Lady Macbeth as a conduit for all of her rage. By embodying her, she is free to release her anger and assert herself in a healthy way. In one lovely scene she and Mon imagine creative ways to kill each and every one of the popular girls – schemes so elaborate and silly that they could never become reality, but which are good cathartic fun to daydream about.
An embodiment of Lily’s search for the strength and power of Lady Macbeth is Jason Bailey as an almost entirely mute representation of the Thane of Cawdor who lives in Lily’s imagination. At the close of the play Lily is seen dancing slowly and peacefully with him, as she has simultaneously succeeded in asserting herself and making peace with her jealousy and anger.
This is not a cute silly play for young audiences. Neither is it overly tough. It deals with an average girl’s internal journey towards womanhood, something every young woman has to deal with. It is not a cautionary tale about the evils of alcohol, tobacco, or premarital sex. It is ultimately a play about finding answers in great literature.
Simon is well cast as Lily. She does not fit society’s narrow definition of beauty, but she is a strong and appealing actress. It is what is inside that makes you truly beautiful, and Simon’s Lily shines. She is well able to anchor the play.
Therrien is all moody gloom as Mon. “Do you think I’m me because I want to be?” she asks Lily at one point. Therrien provides a good foil for Simon’s spunk and determination by being supportive and realistic at the same time.
King is a little bland as Barry, you can tell that Lily will outgrow their relationship soon, but when he gets a few cameos as other characters later in the play his talent emerges. King is just beginning his acting career with the Drama Team, and I hope he stays with it through high school. It will be fun to watch him grow as an actor.
DiGiorgis does a nice job of portraying Ms. Mavis, who is a sad but very realistic commentary on the teaching profession. DiGiorgis is herself a teacher, and I am sure it was hard for her to say some of those lines in which Mavis is so quick to pigeon-hole Lily without giving her a chance.
It is a credit to this herd of young actresses in this production that you need to refer to your program to discover which ones of them are still in high school and which ones are older. I would guess there is at least a ten year age gap between the youngest and the oldest of them, but they all know the age they are playing and hit the nail on the head. They are each called upon to play a variation of snobby perfection. The five popular girls often speak chorally, but the actresses each do a nice job of creating distinct characters.
Cooper, one of the older actresses, is convincing as Simon’s snotty little sister. Jones distinguishes herself with an hysterically bad reading of Lady Macbeth, sort of a Lady Macbeth Barbie, if you can visualize it, all perky in her mini-kilt. Downey sings beautifully at the beginning and end of the show.
Bailey is handsome and assured as Lily’s dream Macbeth. I would guess he is not used to wearing a skirt, and could use a little help getting kilt and plaid adjusted properly. Maybe one of the Berkshire Highlanders could be called upon for expert advice?
My only other quibble with the production was the mispronunciation of the words Glamis and Edinburgh, problems easily solved before the trek to Nebraska. Otherwise this production looks professional and ready to go. I am sure it will be a popular offering, and I look forward to hearing a full report when the Team returns to the Berkshires.
Mike Grogan, Vice-President of Mill City Productions and a Drama Team alumnus, has done a fine job directing. The “death” scenes are staged creatively without awkward blocking that could make the performers timid and uncomfortable. The set is deliberately simple since getting 50 productions on and off the stage in rapid succession at the Festival requires minimal staging. Tim Mangun’s lighting was a little off on opening night, but hopefully things will get straightened out before the show goes on the road.
Living with Lady Macbeth will be performed June 11 & 12 at 7:30 p.m. and June 13 at 2 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 59 Summer Street in North Adams. The show runs 40 minutes without an intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information visit the Mill City Productions Web site.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004