Theater Info for the Washington DC region

American Century Theatre’s Macbird! Flies High

By • Sep 15th, 2006 • Category: Reviews

We (Laura and Mike) were out of town last weekend, so Lisa Kay Morton sent us her thoughts on the American Century Theatre‘s production of Macbird!. If you have seen a show in the area recently, feel free to send us your thoughts about it. Listen to Lisa Kay’s review of MacBird! [MP3 4:46 1.4MB].

Lisa Kay: This Saturday I had the unique experience visiting Arlington Virginia to see the American Century Theatre’s production of Macbird!.

Now when I say unique, the show is truly that, it’s unique. MacBird! is a political satire and it’s written in iambic pentameter. No, it has nothing to do with the Happy Meal, but it will make you laugh.

The playwright, Barbara Garson, wrote the show in the midst of a 1960 anti war rally where she was a student at Berkeley. The show is a really fun mix of 1960’s history and pop culture, and a little bit of Shakespeare. Ms. Garson began MacBird! as a short skit based on MacBeth. It eventually evolved into the two and a half hour long production that I saw.

It was really fun to see the juxtaposition between the MacBeth parody and the parody of President Johnson and the Kennedunks. That’s the Kennedys. I found myself laughing at a lot of things that I didn’t understand. It’s a good thing that I’m not a politician because some of the politically incorrect humor throughout the show was actually very refreshing.

Saturday was a really special night at the theatre because the playwright, Barbara Garson, was actually there at the production. Immediately after the production she spoke to the director, to the audience, to the cast, and had a little Q & A session. One of the comments she made I thought was really interesting. She was talking about earlier productions. Even though this piece is a comedy and it goes to great lenghts to satirize the political figures of the Vietnam era. The Kennedy’s Bobby and Teddy and John, as well as Ladybird Johnson and President Johnson. Her intention in writing the show and how it was to be performed initially was that it was done in full Shakespearian garb and there was a fairly unbroken rhythm to the text. It was done in iambic pentameter and there weren’t breaks for various sight gags or other elements.

This production, Ellen Dempsy the director, chose not to do that. I thought that was a really good call for this particular piece. I loved the physical humor. I loved the sight gags. I loved the dog being thrown on the floor and the pig on the plate, and the president choking on a pretzel. Even though MacBird! was in Shakespearian form, it’s not Shakespeare. It was never written to be Shakespeare. I thought that the clever staging and the creative use of props, and sound effects really kept the show moving along.

There’s an interest on the part of many people in this production to bring back MacBird! from it’s days on the shelf because it’s really being resurrected so that it has more days on the stage. I don’t know if forty years after the Kennedy’s and Vietnam that this piece would stand alone by itself without the excellent vision and direction of directors like Dempsey. Or her incredibly talented actors. I don’t think many theaters could pull this piece off. It’s a difficult piece. And I think it could quickly fall flat.

In summary, I would say MacBird! is not a great piece, but it is a great reflection on an era. If you know the political players or if you know MacBeth, it’s a great read, it’s a great show. This is a wonderful vehicle for actors. Tonight’s cast was excellent. Special kudos to principles Joe Kronin as MacBird! He was incredible. And the wonderful Charlotte Akin as Lady MacBird. Just a wonderful performance. I have to confess, my favorite bits on the stage were the three Kennedunks, JFK, fabulous, Bobby, fabulous, Teddy gotta stop drinking, but fabulous. A few bits that were just real close to the original models. The ensemble and the Three Witches did a great job. And energetic period performances really made this show move forward. So if you’re a political junky or you enjoy Shakespeare, this production will have a lot to offer you. It’s not appropriate for children. There’s adult language and content, as well as the typical 1960’s recreational drug scenes. Actually they were quite funny. So if the idea of LBJ smoking a bong entertains you’ll have a wonderful time. Peace out.

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works nationally and internationally as an opera singer, coach, teacher, conductor and stage director. She is the CEO of Saltnote Stageworks, a non-profit corporation that promotes education & performance opportunities for emerging artists.

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