Steadstyle Chicago

April 2009 Theatre Review by Venus Zarris

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Macbeth

This past Friday night I reviewed a production of "Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens" at Hydrate Nightclub.  At the risk of plagiarizing my own review, just before the show started I asked my friend Alonzo, "Why do we like drag so much?"  "Because they are superheroes. They are gay superheroes," he so brilliantly responded.

Babes With Blades' production of "Macbeth" has an all-woman cast.  The male parts have not been rewritten for women, but rather, women acting like men are playing the male roles.  While this is a far cry from Drag Queens reenacting "Snow White," it is a type of gender-bending and cross-dressing that falls under the category of drag.  Moreover, it is a show inhabited by heroes and villains, the likes of which are not traditionally thought of as being part of women's theatrical territory.  But once again, Babes With Blades slices through (did I really just say that?) the stereotypes.

Taking on a Shakespeare classic is a daunting task for a company that specializes in Shakespeare. It is a real challenge for companies that focus attention in other directions. This is not the most completely realized "Macbeth" that I have ever seen but Babes With Blades manages a solid rendition, with some exceptional elements and their own unique twist.

The cast ranges from adequate to captivating.  Nika Ericson delivers a powerful Lady Macbeth that is wickedly conniving and delightfully evil.  She could stand to show a bit more seduction in her manipulation of Macbeth, as this is a metaphor role for Eve's corruption of Adam, but her performance is a highlight nonetheless.

Kathryn Wolf is a gifted Macbeth.  She displays swagger with restraint and inner turmoil with conviction.  As with many of the performances, there seems to be something held back that needs to be released.  We never see the full descent into Macbeth's madness but Wolf is commanding with depth.  Amy E. Harmon creates a noble, driven and intense Macduff.  Her pain, at the murder of Macduff's family, is a bit too far beneath the surface but when her rage reaches full boil it is extreme and exciting.

Sadly, the witches are unconvincing.  Neither frightening nor playful, they come across as something from a tame outdoor pagan recreation.  As the witches are a signature component of this story, this detracts much from the potential impact of the production.

The space is used well but the design elements are less than thrilling.  Director Kevin Heckman sufficiently gets the story across.  But this is a very specialized company.  Their mission statement tells us that they are a "theatre company that expands opportunities for women by producing theatre that showcases their strength, vitality, and proficiency in the art of stage combat."  And in this regard, Babes With Blades really delivers the goods.

Fight Choreographer Libby Beyreis and the dedicated cast create a thrilling world of exciting swordplay.  From fighting individuals to two gangs going at it, the girl-on-girl steel-on-steel is exceptional.  Two major components go into effective stage combat; imaginary conceptualized choreography and practice. Practice as in long hours.  Practice so that no one on stage is hurt and everyone off stage enjoys the spectacle, while holding on to their suspension of disbelief.  I have seen staged combat fall flat at older and more reputable companies, such as the Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatre.  But in this "Macbeth," Babes With Blades lives up to their name by creating believable and invigorating sword and knife wielding altercations.

On the heels of William Shakespeare's 445th birthday, Babes With Blades defies the convention of gender in role assignment and realizes something that the Bard might never have imagined.  This is not the definitive production of "Macbeth," but Babes With Blades heroically proves to be the definitive company for women who kick ass on stage.  When they make medicine of their revenge it is a prescription for fun.  "Macbeth" runs through May 30, 2009 at La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston Ave.  Call 773-880-0016.  For more information go to www.babeswithblades.org.

 

About Venus Zarris

Venus Zarris is the Editor and Chief Writer for ChicagoStageReview.com. She is a feature writer and theater critic for Gay Chicago Magazine, as well as other print and on-line publications. Her writing has been featured at colleges and universities in Illinois and Michigan and on National Public Radio. Venus's photography and writing is on permanent collection at the New York Historical Society and the Library of Congress.  Steadstyle Chicago is proud to welcome Venus' intelligent, witty and provocative writing to our site.