Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Shakespeare may be dead, but his plays are alive, well, and adaptable to modern times. Hamilton author, David Laing Dawson, demonstrates this in his powerful MacBush: the Musical, directed by Ron Weihs. The play transposes the story of MacBeth to Washington D.C. and Iraq. Mixing clever, biting political satire with direct anti-war statements, showing how power corrupts and evil proliferates, especially when done in the name of “good.”
Judith Sandiford’s effective design places the actors in front of projected photographs, from Bush and his cronies, to scenes of war and human devastation, to the aftermath of returning veterans. Photo courtesy of Adam Carter
Dawson comments, “I think of the George W. Bush years as a tragedy, though the tragedy befell ordinary people, not the protagonist.” He wrote the script and lyrics and the music was composed by Charles W. Humphreys. In this production, Tim Nijenhuis, musical director, performs brilliantly on the piano and keyboard, ably assisted by Steve Foster, on percussion. The music supports the action and provides bridges between scenes. Learie McNicolls designed the choreography and movement – a complicated feat on a small stage.
The play opens with the three “witches” – portrayed by Will Gillespie, Jon-Gordon Odegaard, and Jeremy Shand/”Mr. J”– swirling onstage like flying dervishes in bright robes. Weihs notes, “In our play, the witches do not represent real historical figures. They are projections of the fantasies of George and his Republican cronies.” As the witches predict, George Dubya – manipulated by Dickie (Dick Cheney), played with menacing intensity by Allan Merovitz – moves from golf course to Oval Office. Sean Emberley plays George with a combination of privilege, boyishness, zeal, and terrifying ignorance.
Supported by Rumsfeld (also played by Gillespie), and Condoleezza Rice, beautifully acted and sung by Jamila B., George chooses “WAR” as the simplistic, patriotic solution to 9/11 and world complexity. Condi’s wonderful song, “What Do I Think?” shows how she has been trained to study and please, but doesn’t know her own mind. In the end, she supports Bush, but Colin Powell (also played by Shand) is reluctant to do so. He gives in, but finally resigns, after he has realized his mistakes. Shand’s portrayal of Powell’s conflicts is memorable. There is also a powerful juxtaposition of the chorus singing, “War is stupid”, as a protest against Bush and his cronies, as they carry weapons and praise warfare.
For this reviewer, an anti-war activist since Vietnam years, two highlights of the show are Shavini Fernando Ranasinghe’s portrayal of an Iraqi woman lamenting, “Once I had a family…I had a daughter, I had a son,” and Gillespie, as an ordinary soldier, chanting, “Help me un-see what I have seen, help me undo what I have done, help me un-live what I have lived.”
Ranasinghe, a talented young performer, also takes part in the chorus, as do Shand and Odegaard. The play moves swiftly; the pace slows at the start of the second act but gains momentum in the banquet scene where George sees a ghost. The show ends with a reminder of Shakespeare’s words: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” Condi looks at her hands, as Lady MacBeth does, as she speaks the lines, “Out, damned spot! …. Will these hands never be clean?” Good question.
MacBush; the Musical runs at Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St, Hamilton, through May 8.