Review: With "macbitches," Something Wickedly Entertaining This Way Comes

macbitches

Written by Sophie McIntosh

Directed by Ella Jane New

Presented by the Chain Theatre

312 W. 36th Street, 4th Floor, Manhattan, NYC

August 19-September 10, 2022

Caroline Orlando (center), Morgan Lui (Right), Laura Clare Browne, and Marie Dinolan. Photo by Wesley Volcy
In Macbeth, King Duncan says of a man who betrayed him and was killed by a second man who will betray him in turn, "There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face" (Norton Shakespeare, 1.4.11-12). How much more true would this observation be if everyone were also professional actors? Playwright Sophie McIntosh draws inspiration from the Scottish play for macbitches, which she sets in an environment that can be every bit as defined by hierarchy, factionalism, and vaulting ambition as any royal court: a university theater program. Currently making its world premiere at the Chain Theatre, macbitches takes a funny, piercing, and poignant look at a quintet of young women who are navigating this patriarchy-tinged crucible as friends and competitors simultaneously.

The crown which is up for grabs when macbitches begins is the role of Lady Macbeth in that semester's drama program production. Senior Rachel (Caroline Orlando) has gotten used to being the anointed one, but to be thus is nothing if she is not safely thus, and first-semester freshman Hailey (Marie Dinolan) is about to upset the status quo, a feat which scores her an invite to an intimate, booze-soaked gathering of Rachel and her friends. The other partygoers are Cam (Morgan Lui), who has had something of the opposite experience to Rachel, persistently cast in small roles by her professors; Piper (Laura Clare Browne), in the process of outgrowing her conservative religious background and of attempting to manage her own self-doubt; and Lexi (Natasja Naarendorp), another senior and the most bluntly outspoken and contentious of the group. Hailey's effervescent personality and inexperience combine for an unselfconscious enthusiasm about everything from the audition process to the mere fact of being at a university ("college is the best," she proclaims, with vodka-fueled energy). Her recounting of her callback, though, hints at some problematic subtext, even if she is unaware of it, and the conversations and revelations that emerge over the course of the night point to systemic problems. Some of the women's experiences, for example, embody the way in which the idea that one must sacrifice for art has long functioned as an excuse for bad treatment, whether by parents, professors, or, if one is lucky, employers. As women, these actors additionally have to deal with various manifestations of sexism and misogyny. Some of them argue that their director did not have to keep the casting for Macbeth gendered (a decision which Rachel defends because there must be a "reason" behind it), and Cam notes that the fact that most productions cut Hecate means that they cut one of the few female roles in the play. At another point, spurred by the example of one less conventionally attractive young woman in their program, they argue about the role that appearance does and should play in casting; and they feel duty-bound to warn Hailey that one of her scene partners will try to have sex with her, as he does with "every girl he's in a show with."  
(Left to right) Caroline Orlando, Morgan Lui, Natasja Narrendorp, Laura Clare Browne, and Marie Dinolan. Photo by Wesley Volcy
Cam wonders if the professional world isn't the way it is because they allow people like their professors to make it that way. Rachel, as mentioned, defends some of the practices criticized by others, but of course, another problem is that it is harder to attack the system when it is working for you. At the same time, we hear that Rachel has acted as a mentor to some of the other women, one instance of the ways in which macbitches gives its characters depth and distinctive complexity. A late confessional exchange between Piper and Cam, beautifully played by Browne and Liu, offers another example. Dinolan strikes the right note for Hailey's unrestrained earnestness and is, along with the rest of the cast, very funny as the shots continue to flow. Naarendorp's Lexi compellingly walks a line between loyalty and resentment as best friends with the woman to whom she is always second best; and Orlando brings the intensity of Lady Macbeth herself to the confident, driven Rachel.
Morgan Lui and Laura Clare Browne. Photo by Wesley Volcy
Cam, Lexi, and Rachel show themselves to be supportive, caring friends to Piper, right before they proceed to show themselves in their worst light. This pattern would not be out of place in Macbeth, and it makes a dramatic impact here. The women of macbitches are never less than vividly human, and are all the more memorable for it.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards 

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