Ever wondered what Shakespeare’s Macbeth (AKA “The Scottish Play”) would look like if it took place in the 1970s instead of the 11th century? Well, imagine no more, for there’s a new musical that’s playing off-Broadway that updates one of the Bard’s legendary plays in a tale that contains stoners, deer hunting and French fries. Based on the 2001 independent film, Scotland, PA (currently playing at the Laura Pels Theatre for a limited run until December 8th) is a weird, wild and engaging black musical comedy and a worthy cousin to two similar shows, Little Shop of Horrors and Bat Boy: The Musical.
Taking place in 1975 in the title of the show’s location, Mac McBeth (Jimmy Brewer, understudying for Ryan McCartan at the performance that I attended) is a fast-food employee who tries to give his boss new ideas, Duncan (Jeb Brown), as a way to improve business in the run-down burger place that he owns. Duncan often rejects them. Mac’s wife and co-worker Pat (Taylor Iman Jones) supports her husband’s ideas no matter what.
Then suddenly, one night, Mac comes across a group of stoners (Alysha Umphress, Wonu Ogunfowora and understudy Evan Daves) who predicts the future, just like the witches did in the original story. The stoners tell Mac to present Duncan with an idea of a drive-thru for the restaurant. Mac does that, but it gets rejected by Duncan. So, Mac and Pat decide to take desperate measures by robbing the restaurant’s vault, complete with them wearing Nixon masks. Duncan catches them red-handed and tries to call the cops on them. Mac and Pat try to stop him from doing this and in the process, Duncan is accidently put into the deep-fryer, head-first. The couple soon decides to keep it a secret between themselves. Thanks to Duncan’s son, they inherit the restaurant (now renamed as McBeth’s). Things are looking good at this point, until Detective McDuff (Megan Lawrence) comes in the fast-food joint to investigative Duncan’s death at the end of act one.
Director Lonny Price has helmed a production here that’s filled with the right amount of darkness and charm for a story such as this. Josh Rhodes’s choreography is well-done and Tracy Christensen’s costumes and Anna Louizos’s sets reflect the 70’s setting to good effect. Adam Gwon delivers a first-rate score which includes a funny ode to the drive-thru in the first act and a lovely duet between Mac and Pat in the second act. Michael Mitnick’s book has a bit of sitcom-feeling in the first scenes, but it gradually improves throughout, succeeding on the show’s intentions as a savage dark musical comedy.
The show is wonderfully acted by a fine cast. Brewer and Jones (best known from last year’s Head Over Heels) are very convincing as the couple who would kill only just to improve their unfortunate lives. But Jay Armstrong Johnson (who plays Mac’s best friend, Banko), Lawrence, Umphress, Ogunfowora and Daves steal the show with sheer comic timing.
It may not reach the comic heights of The Book of Mormon to be sure, but if you want Shakespeare served with a side of songs, chuckles and the memories of the 70s, this is right up your alley.
The Buzz on Scotland, PA:
Quick Words: Macbeth, 1975 style. A dark musical comedy complete with fries, Nixon and Jaws jokes. It’s worth the taste.
Recommended Best For: Ages 14 and up, contains language and mild violent material.Playing At: The Laura Pels Theatre on 111 West 46th Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues) for a limited run until December 8th. For tickets, go to roundabouttheatre.org, todaytix.com/x/nyc or call 212-719-1300.