I went to theatre school. Know this before reading on. I went to theatre school, trained as an actor at a conservatory on the East Coast. I am well-versed in the racing of the heart while waiting for a cast list; I know the stomach drop of not getting the role you desire, and the wave of envy that accompanies it. I, too, ran into the self-assured macbitches so explored in Sophie McIntosh’s newest play. Before I saw Chain Theatre’s production, I knew I my own experiences would be mirrored onstage—I would be called out, if you will—but I hadn’t the slightest inkling how much.
McIntosh’s macbitches takes place over the course of a single night, at the apartment of two Michigan college students. The cast list for the fall production of Macbeth has just been posted, and Lady M (horror of horrors!) has been given to a freshman. The theatre department’s central foursome—superstar Rachel, outspoken Lexi, innocent Piper, and sardonic Cam—are shocked, to say the least. A few may even be bloodthirsty. In an effort to understand and rectify the situation, they invite said freshman, Hailey, to what is presented as a celebratory party. Utter chaos ensues, the toxicity of performance academia on full display.
The script itself has wonderful potential. Its bones are there—a tale of Shakespearean betrayal amongst BFA college girls; the beginnings of universal wit; what will provide a needed exploration of internalized sexism and abusive practices in the industry—but it needs shaping. As I watched this production, I couldn’t help but feel I was on the outside, listening to inside jokes that I understood but didn’t find as hysterical as the friend group did. I laughed at the mockery, of course: as a former theatre student, who can forget the siren warm-ups, or the breathing exercises? Who wouldn’t laugh at the stupidity of bad onstage choreography, or the rivalry between departments? I found myself brought back to my own college years, making me cringe and chuckle in equal measure.
That, however, is one of the issues macbitches encounters. The humor is so niche, the stories so internalized to the characters, that it is difficult for an audience to find themselves welcomed into the world. One feels as if a stereotypical wallflower at a party, Solo cup in hand as the popular girls monopolize the floor. There is a universality that has not yet been claimed by McIntosh’s script. Her characters are so beautifully specific, her world so lovingly crafted: that skill of inherency would benefit from an invitation to the audience, from a welcoming to the world and a reason why all, not just drama students, should care. It deserves it, in fact. McIntosh’s message is too important to be brushed aside.
Of character specificity, these five are instantly identifiable, archetypes of the theatre kid. This is both a blessing and a curse. For the former, it makes us laugh. We all know and love them: the conceited superstar (Rachel); the sheltered schoolgirl (Piper); the promiscuous partier (Lexi); the compensating queer folk (Cam); and the overenthusiastic freshman (Hailey). Everyone in the audience, regardless of background, knows of these stereotypes, and can laugh along with them. It feels self-aware, to an extent, providing both audience and characters a grounding in hyperreality. Utilized correctly, this makes the intense moments all the more shocking and impactful, as we come down from the SNL-reminiscent high.
For the latter, however, the stereotypes could be off-putting. They provide more queries than answers. Why is the queer woman both depression fodder and fetishized, her queerness used as a manipulation against her? Why is the promiscuous comic relief played by a black woman, the only person to be overtly crass and loud onstage? Why does Piper’s discomfort with sex vanish so quickly, religion be damned? These stereotypes encroach on lacking complexity and a problematic approach, and, thus, hinder our empathy towards them; this exploration clearly floats beneath the surface, but it hasn’t been brought forth. Yet.
That floating, I think, is where McIntosh’s piece holds the greatest potential for growth. macbitches addresses quite a few topics of importance: internalized sexism; patriarchal grooming; manipulation of those already fighting for their place; and the toxicity of academia. Everything endured by these five women is incredibly important, and I am thrilled McIntosh is addressing them. Unfortunately, each needs more elaboration before an audience is left with solid emotions and thoughts; instead of simply touching on them, they need to be properly addressed and absorbed, in whatever way that may be. That, I believe, will make this piece shine.
Truly shining were the design team and actors in this production. The minutiae of it all was stunning. The set design, crafted by Brandon Scott Hughes, was gorgeous in its realism, composed of entirely tactile pieces that were often utilized by the actors. The costuming, by Sydni Rivero, was ideal for the self-awareness of these stereotypes, allowing us instant recognition. The direction, by Ella Jane New and Mystery Skelton, held a perfect combination of war and friendship; my only question was in the physical motivation of some areas, but the actors held their own.
It was, undeniably, a wonderfully talented group of actors. The friendships felt entirely genuine, the true grounding of the play; I felt their love and their joy, and clenched my jaw at the betrayal and pain. The intricacies of Rachel and Lexi (played by a cleverly understated Caroline Orlando and frighteningly physical Natasja Naarendorp) and Piper and Cam (a forever grounded Laura Clare Browne and hilariously heartbreaking Morgan Lui) kept me enthralled. Their genius lay in their apparent love for each other, and the fun they had onstage. One must give kudos to both the cast and the playwright for such a crafting.
In short, I enjoyed macbitches. I love the concept, the women within it, and the story it aims to tell. I only wish to see it live up to its full potential. I cannot wait to see where McIntosh takes it next.
macbitches plays at Chain Theatre through September 10, 2022. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.chaintheatre.org/macbitches-worldpremiere.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Rhiannon Ling.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.