Scotland, PA Review: Macbeth as a 1970s fast food musical comedy

There is one spectacularly funny moment in this musical comedy version of “Macbeth,” which is based on Billy Morrissette’s 2001 movie, and is set in a fast-food restaurant in the “podunk town” of Scotland, Pennsylvania in 1975. Mac and Pat, a married couple who have worked for ten years in Duncan’s eatery, attempt to rob their boss, and inadvertently murder him: They hit him with a frying pan, and he falls head-first into the chicken fryer, fried alive. None of that is funny. But in the next scene in the restaurant, with Mac now in charge, all the fast-food workers are dressed in construction jumpsuits and the establishment is covered with canvas. Suddenly, all the workers strip off their outfit, and simultaneously all the canvas falls off, and we see red and gold costumes, red and gold décor, a huge yellow M sign, and the new name of the restaurant: McBeth’s.
The transformation from Duncan’s to McBeth’s is a coup, so to speak – but the coup belongs to set designer Anna Louizos. Despite a cast and creative team full of New York theater pros, everything else about “Scotland, PA”, is, at best, just ok.

The transposition of Shakespeare’s tragedy into a skit-like comedy is done competently. The three witches are now co-ed stoners named Hector, Stacy and Jessie.  The character Banquo, who is Macbeth’s co-general, is here the long-haired and extremely dim-witted Banko (a nearly unrecognizable Jay Armstrong Johnson), Mac’s friend and co-worker. Duncan’s son Malcolm is now a sullen high school football player (Will Meyers, making an impressive New York stage debut, gets a funny coming-out song, “Why I Like Football.”) Macduff, the noble loyal to Duncan who kills Macbeth in the Bard’s play, is here homicide detective Peg McDuff (Megan Lawrence.) Rather than Lady Macbeth needing to wash her hands of guilt and imagined blood, Pat (Taylor Iman Jones) tries to put ice on an imagined burn from the fryer, but in the end plunges into a more drastic solution. Ultimately, the characters in “Scotland, PA” wind up with more or less the same (bloody and unfunny) fates as the characters in “Macbeth,” but you’ll be forgiven for wondering: What’s the point?

The score by Adam Gwon (“Ordinary Days”) is full of adequate 1970s-like rock music, which occasionally allows the terrific singers in the cast to show what they can do.  Gwon attaches lyrics to his music that are deliberately downscale, which might be funnier in a smaller dose. The prologue features the three stoners taking turns singing:

You know how this story goes
You’ve heard ‘Fair is Foul’
That whole Shakespeare thing

There’s blood and some people die
but we’ve changed some shit,
just like on a whim.

The book by Michael Mitnick offers almost as many allusions to McDonald’s as to Macbeth, and is full of one-liners so aggressively dopey that theatergoers that don’t cringe may actually laugh.

I have little doubt that some people will get a kick out of this fast-food version of Shakespeare’s tragedy.  But it’s not to my taste – and it’s not at all nourishing.

Scotland, PA
Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
Book by Michael Mitnick, music & lyrics by Adam Gwon
Directed by Lonny Price, choreographed by Josh Rhodes
Scenic Design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Tracy Christensen, lighting design by Jeanette Yew, sound design by Jon Weston, Hair, Wig & Make-up Design
by J. Jared Janas, orchestrations by Frank Galgano & Matt Castle, fight director Thomas Schall, Music Director Vadim Feichtner
Cast: Jeb Brown as “Duncan,” Jay Armstrong Johnson as “Banko,” Taylor Iman Jones as “Pat,” Lacretta as “Mrs. Lenox,” Megan Lawrence as “McDuff,” Ryan McCartan as “Mac,” Will Meyers as “Malcolm,”Wonu Ogunfowora as “Stacey,” David Rossmer as “Doug,” Alysha Umphress as “Jessie” and Kaleb Wells as “Hector.”
Running time:Two hours and thirty minutes including one intermission
Tickets: $79-99.
“Scotland, PA” is on stage through December 8, 2019

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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