William Shakespeare's classic tragedy "Macbeth" incorporates witches and ghosts, and the plot explores murder and other dark deeds committed to obtain power. Heidelberg University alumnus Ray Ouellette has written a dark comedy, "The M Word," which concerns a band of summerstock actors trying to produce a seemingly doomed production of "Macbeth."
The show is to have its premiere this weekend in Gundlach Theatre at Heidelberg. Performances are at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
In addition to the sinister action in the script, the play is affected by drama behind the scenes. A frazzled director, played by Adam Oulton, is trying to navigate the egos and rivalries among the actors. Mac Wallace portrays the pompous Matthew, who has been cast as Macbeth. Whenever the other actors are not spot on with their lines and blocking, Matthew launches into an intimidating tirade. Then, there is the catty Chelsea, played by Ashley Helmick. In addition to the part of Lady Macbeth, Chelsea is Matthew's girlfriend.
PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO
Brady Gibson, as Brian (left), discusses the pompous behavior of the lead actor with Shane Ramsey, as Robert, the understudy, in this scene from “The M Word.”
Then there is the crew, who like to hang out in the bowels of the theater to get high. Leigh Barthel is cast as Jill, the stage manager who must maintain her sanity while placating the director and the leads. She is dating another actor, Robert, who would like nothing better than to play Macbeth.
Although Robert knows all of Macbeth's lines, his acting skills may not be up to the task. The frustrating situation drives some of the company to drink and prompts a few others to take more drastic measures. Their schemes to manipulate the production produce some humorous and unexpected outcomes.
Shane Ramsey, as Robert, relays his desire for the lead to Jill and asks her to help him get Matthew to drop out of the show. They come up with a daring plot that disables Matthew and moves Robert from understudy into the desired role.
Jill blames the "accident" on the inept crew; however, more complications develop no one saw coming. The actors wonder whether the production really is cursed, as some theater lore suggests.
Director Dan unravels a little more with each challenge but proclaims, "The show must go on."
Dan moves Brian (Brady Gibson) into the understudy spot for Macbeth as Robert begins to crumble under the pressure of being the leading actor. When he is late for rehearsal, Brian stands in for him. Dan is impressed with Brian's performance, making Robert even more insecure.
Some funny scenes result when Brian tries to upstage Robert at practice. In addition, other members of the troupe suspect Robert had a role in Matthew's injury. When Chelsea flirts with Robert, Jill becomes jealous and causes another "accident" in Chelsea's dressing room, while Robert threatens a fellow actor in parallel dressing room scenes.
It seems some of these modern actors have become Shakespeare's troubled characters.
Jill is forced to play Lady Macbeth in Chelsea's place, opposite the nervous Robert. The charcters have "wardrobe malfunctions" because the costumes were designed to fit other people. The chaos continues right up through opening night, with Dan going into meltdown just before curtain. The audience must rely on suspended disbelief to accept the outrageous antics of the actors and unlikely onstage mishaps.
In addition to those previously named, the cast includes Allyn Frye, Desmond Hall, Kristina Kamm, AJ Lacefield, Morgan LaFlure, Jenna Rhoades, Liz Rhode, Kayla Rollins, Deana Shook and Addie Woost.
The sound crew does a good job with all the cues that are needed to keep the pace of the show, and the costume mistress was able to adapt existing garments in the department's collection.
Student director Katelyn Hough has managed to keep her composure while orchestrating the first production of this original play. She said many of the cast members are involved in other campus groups and attendance at some rehearsals was spotty. This is her first experience at directing, so she had to learn to be the "bad guy" to get good results.
Hough also praised her first-time stage manager, Marina Richie.
"We both learned a lot," Hough said. "I did have good commitment from the cast and crew."
Chris Tucci was Hough's mentor for her directing debut. Although he stayed in the background as much as possible, she said he made himself available when she needed his guidance. Also, Hough made weekly phone calls to Ouellette to work out difficulties.
She said the playwright actually altered the script to make it work at Gundlach. Ouellette and his parents are expected to attend the Saturday performance of "The M Word."
Hough, a Heidelberg senior, said directing has been "fulfilling but exasperating." Having acted in numerous shows, she said the experience has given her a greater respect for what directors do.
Admission is a freewill donation. Due to some adult language, the play is not recommended for younger children.