MAC: How Many Characters in a Deck?

Describing MAC to someone else makes it sound like little more than the nth in a line of gimmicky reworkings of Shakespeare, or of Macbeth specifically. The Scottish Play as a two-person show with close-up card magic! Don’t let that deceive you. The play reduces to a two-hander with ease, and having the major characters other than the Macbeths represented by cards – that they can manipulate as they will, or that fate throws in their path over and over – works surprisingly well and highlights the claustrophobia of the plot.

Amy Lee Connell and Shawn Fennell, in addition to playing Lady Macbeth/Witch and Macbeth, have developed an extensive schema mapping cards to characters or other elements of the play, as well as the repertoire of tricks to establish and reveal them. The mapping is clear and the reveals are clever and genuinely shocking, even in a plot one already knows (and this isn’t a production for Macbeth first-timers).

As far as acting, Connell and Fennell both get chances to monologue, but are best when playing opposite each other. In these scenes, generally taking place on the red-lit Aurora stage instead of around the table, there is a clear shift from Macbeth’s hesitancy and Lady Macbeth’s steely resolve in the initial murder, into Macbeth’s increasing readiness to eliminate his enemies and Lady Macbeth’s remorse and madness, thanks to the actors’ great attention to even short lines of text in a heavily cut script.

Some re-ordering of the Shakespearean text, particularly toward the end, left it unclear what was or had been happening: Was the entire show up until then part of Lady Macbeth’s reliving the murder(s) in her sleep? A more conscious decision to re-enact the events? What, then, are the cards for? None of these are bad ideas for Macbeth, but putting them all together leaves the ending a bit murky. A more linear version of the ending, still playing in and out of the card-magic framework, might have been more satisfying.

MAC runs only about half an hour as part of FringePVD, and would be worth taking the time to see even if it were longer. 

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