One thing is for sure—you will not walk out of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s current Main Stage offering, “Mr. & Mrs. M: A Fantasia on Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” with no opinion about the show.
Therefore, if creating dialogue about art is one of art’s functions, in that function, “Mr. & Mrs. M” succeeds in spades.
Now about the rest of it.
I need to point out up front that at least two experienced theatre performers, whose opinions I deeply respect, loved this production so much that they have emailed and Facebooked all their connections raving about it. They’re head-over-heels about the conception and execution of what all will concur is an ambitious and risky undertaking.
But I must respectfully disagree with their view. For me, “Mr. and Mrs. M” was a mess—a mess that had some outstanding moments, to which I will refer, but nevertheless, a mess.
Scott Dunlap, who “reimagined,” directed and designed set, costumes and lighting for this show, gives us a legend, which is supposed to have given rise to the production, and tells us via the program that it’s hoped the “performance may appease these damned souls and grant them their long-awaited applause.” So one may be forgiven for thinking that this legend will be an integral part of the production.
But it’s not used in that way, at least until the end. “Mr. & Mrs. M” is a series of scenes, each named for famous lines in “Macbeth,” which tell an abbreviated and cut-and-pasted version of Shakespeare’s play in an atmosphere of dream-turned nightmare.
Performers have been directed, in many cases, to slow dialogue and movement down to reinforce this nightmare feeling. And in fact, use of this technique might well have been effective used sparingly. Used to the extent it was, however, it became, for this viewer at least, excruciating—particularly since the very essence of the original play is a galloping pace to the final nihilism of the ending.
“Nothing succeeds like excess” appears to have been the watchword of this production, and again, while I salute the enormous creativity and energy that went into it, it was like a confection that the chef cannot stop adding onto.
The constant soundtrack, blending styles of music from numerous periods, is appropriate in places but a distraction in many others. The set, composed of all sorts of pieces from the CTC’s vaults, functions effectively on a multi-level, multi-scene basis, and would have been wonderful used alone. But layered with the mannered performances, the insistent barrage of music, and interminable dance numbers, it became a sort of symbol for the “too muchness” of the concept.
Yet there are some wonderful things about “Mr. & Mrs. M” as well. The wholehearted commitment of the cast to the production’s style and intent was outstanding, in particular, the two leads, Patrick Sweetman as Mr. M and Kim Jackson as Mrs. M. If, as overheard in the lobby at intermission, “Do you have any idea what’s going on?” “Not a clue,” it’s not due to lack of effort on the part of the actors, who speak Shakespeare’s lines clearly and with intent.
The concept of making Mrs. M’s “gentlewoman” (in this production called “Mrs. H”) one and the same with witch goddess Hecate, and therefore the head of all the mischief the witches suggest, was inspired. And as incorporated by Judy LaMance, she lurks and looms throughout the scenes, with few lines, but formidable presence. Jack Harkleroad makes an excellent King Duncan, and bringing him back at the end in a scene reminiscent of the parade of ghosts in “Richard III,” uttering his plaintive cry, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face,” was also perfect. The lighting was varied, spooky and effective.
This is a show you need to see for yourself. And as always, I applaud the CTC and Scott Dunlap for the courage to take creative risks and push the artistic envelope. We already have too much “safe” art. “Mr. & Mrs. M” is, at least, far from safe.
“Mr. & Mrs. M: A Fantasia on Shakespeare’s Macbeth”
8 p.m. April 20, 21
7 p.m. April 19, 26
2:30 p.m. April 22, 29
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
400 River St. (423) 267-8534