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Last week, I described my Shakespeare Festival experience with the unfamiliar play of King John. Sim’s fantasy walk in London took us to the Food Hall in Harrods (where I remember buying the best slice of cake….) and shopping for fashion on Sloane Street. Heather reviewed the fascinating biography of Sophia Duleep Singh — Indian princess and London suffragette. Jackie shared more photos of her 1991 trip to Ireland, including a visit to Galway, plus hotel information and more sheep! Tina reviewed Aftermath, book #12 in the Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson. Jean started a readalong of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Becky reviewed the film Young Victoria and the book Murder in the Museum.

Shakespeare — two weeks in a row! This week, I saw another of the plays that was featured in Shake 38, a part of the Shakespeare Festival devoted to performing some version of all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. Trash Macbeth is a production of the Equally Represented Arts (ERA) theater company, mashing up Macbeth with the 1950s.

Trash Macbeth

Produced by the ERA theater company at The Chapel in St. Louis

The costumes, stage-setting, and script blended the medieval and the 1950s. A long banquet table seated about half the audience while black walking umbrellas stood in for swords with fight scenes staged around and among the viewers. Ads of the 1950s were performed as a kind of Greek chorus, extolling the virtues of products like Dial soap (with hexachlorophene!). The biggest question our group of attendees had after the play was “Really? Lysol douches?” Yep. Really. But, it turns out there was a secret message underlying those ads.

The characters are all the familiar players in Macbeth, with one addition — Emily Post, the mid-20th century’s expert on etiquette. She directed the proper preparation for banquets, explained the way to welcome guests, and even delivered an effective and sympathetic method of honoring the grieving process.

Much of Trash Macbeth is played for laughs. The witch scenes, especially, are witty riffs on the popular culture of the 1950s referencing commercials, cooking shows, and game shows.

The actors who played Banquo and Macduff were both black, which had no particular meaning for most of the play. In the moment, I didn’t grant any significance to Banquo’s death when he was killed in a futile attempt by King Macbeth to further his own cause. At this point, the audience was still experiencing a lot of humor and I was curious about how the ghost of Banquo would be portrayed — he wandered, in silent accusation, around the theater with a lacy black shawl draped over his head and shoulders.

By the time we reached the killing of Macduff’s family, though, things had turned much more serious. The grief of a black person over the deaths of loved ones is a scene far too real and familiar in our community and our country. Retroactively, I was reminded that what we witnessed earlier in the performance, the killing of Banquo, was the death of a young black man at the hands of the state.

If you live in St. Louis, the final two performances are tonight and tomorrow. This play will appeal most to those who have some familiarity to Macbeth. If you want a refresher, I wrote a summary of Macbeth before seeing a (somewhat) more conventional production in 2011. By the way, that post on Macbeth is far and away the most popular I’ve ever written — it gets tons of hits during the school year when students are looking for a bit of help to understand Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Tickets to Trash Macbeth are available at ERA’s website.

What are your experiences with Macbeth and pieces inspired by Macbeth?


Trash Macbeth #BriFri — 8 Comments

  1. I’m not that familiar with Macbeth only in that I read it in college. Being an English major you know that was prescribed reading! I did see a great version of it from the troupe Reduced Shakespeare when they performed in Tallahassee about 20 years ago.
    I love reading about your experiences with this!

  2. Oh wow, I would LOVE to see that. My daughter and I just did a re-read of Macbeth a little while ago. It sounds great. (And I did not know the secret code. Wow.)

    This week I’ve read Book I of the Faerie Queene. It’s hard work! And I also have a mystery set in Victorian Oxford, but I’m kind of disappointed.

  3. A good production is always a great experience. I just read Laurie R King’s ‘The Language of Bees’. I will have to read some others to grasp the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Marry Russell.

  4. That sounds like a blast up until the end, when I was moved to hear your thoughts on the killing of a young black man. Very poignant!
    My son played Banquo in the Theatricum Botanicum educational production here in Topanga when he was 10. LOL but it’s actually a lovely summer camp at the outdoor theater created by Will Geer. If you know anyone living in the LA area with kids, I highly recommend the program!

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