Shakespearing by Chuck Cannini

Lisa Wolpe’s Gender-Bent Macbeth3

On center stage, he slumped over a tire. Strands of short blond hair dangled into the tire’s hole. The back of his burly leather armor faced the audience. Faceless.

Beyond him, a figure obscured by a tattered hood and cloak skulked in the shadows. The way the figure hunched and walked, something could be seen in its palms. A crown.

For a moment, the figure lingered, wary of the man who slumped over the tire. The figure watched the man, cocked its head left and right, then hurried on. To the steel drum surfaced upon a mound of garbage and muck.

As the figure stood over the steel drum, the golden crown slipped from its fingers. When the crown disappeared past the drum’s rim, a well-timed clang echoed through the theatre. Two more objects, two more clangs followed the crown. Then a burst of fiery red light rose with a cough of smoke out of the drum, and the mound of trash breathed.

As the hooded and cloaked figure backed away, hands clapping excitedly, leather horns peaked over the steel drum. A sunken face and a bare chest followed in a sort of slither.

“What bloody man is that?” Satan hissed through the red light and smoke, his eyes fixed on the man slumped over the tire.

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The figure, a witch, grabbed the man by his burly leather armor. With a great yank, she turned the man’s muddled face to the crowd. But he was not a he at all. He was a she: Lisa Wolpe.

Minutes prior, I had explained to my friend and Shakespeare sidekick how Lisa Wolpe and other thespians in her plays transcend the physical – racially, sexually – so long as they embody a character emotionally, psychologically.

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After Disney’s Captain Hook, well, hooked me in at three years old, I grew up enjoying the VHS of the 1954 musical Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan. Years would pass before I learned that a woman played Pan, but subconsciously Lisa Wolpe’s ideas of gender-bent performances had already resonated with me.

And yet, not five minutes into Macbeth3, I had already forgotten this key aspect of Wolpe’s gender-bent Shakespeare or “Trans-Shakespeare” as she sometimes calls her renditions. Wolpe had succeeded.

“Where has thou been, sister?” the witch (Mary Hodges) asked Macbeth, who became temporarily possessed as a second witch in this new trio of devilry.

Wolpe’s response boomed with a deepness and aggression absent in the pleasant tone I had first heard during her podcast interview in Episode 215. “Killing swine,” she said. In an almost drunken state, Macbeth stumbled and swiped a dagger through the air. “And like a rat without a tail, I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.”

Macbeth3’s opening scene differs from Shakespeare’s original story a lot, and I found Wolpe’s tweaks benefitted even the original narrative.

Based on what I just described, Macbeth3’s Act I, Scene I blended action and dialogue from the first two scenes of the original, which quickened the pace, but I also found the scene more visually engaging when compared to the original – the three witches rhyming in the rain.

Though Wolpe served as the second witch, the three mysterious hags combined into a single witch played by Mary Hodges, who also challenged Macbeth as graceful Duncan. Funny enough, Mary’s most lively performance occurred when she played dead. During the famous dinner scene, while the Macbeths were in mid-conversation, Mary entered in such a slow and casual and creepy manner as the bloodied ghost of Banquo. Her face forward, devoid of expression, I snorted an uncomfortable laugh as she also sat down for dinner. You can also add an expository demon masturbating into the steel drum to her resume.

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The same can be said of Nick Salamone, who played Satan and also rocked a Swami hat and purple dress as the ruthless Lady Macbeth. (Salamone also performed in New York Classical Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I reviewed in Shakespearing #42.)

Fewer characters, blended scenes, and one single simple set throughout brought in a resounding applause a little over an hour later.

Macbeth3 is as dark as Shakespeare’s original vision, if not darker and maybe a little more satanic. Lisa Wolpe’s execution of this gender-bent tragic tale is clever and, in comparison to other Shakespeare renditions, revolutionary.

The blood of sliced throats will continue to stain H.E.R.E theatre’s stage until August 14th. Anyone interested in Lisa Wolpe’s gender-bending and overall “Shakesperiences” should also check out her one-woman show Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, which also plays at H.E.R.E until August 14th.

Get tickets for Lisa Wolpe’s current run of shows here.

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Chuck Cannini

Chuck Cannini familiarized himself more with the graffiti on his high school desks than he did Shakespeare. However, he did enjoy Macbeth. Today, he uses his B.F.A. in Creative Writing for Entertainment as an excuse to study Macbeth and learn how to get away with murder.

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