Ingenious and seriously fun, “Trash Macbeth” is one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences of the year.
Imagine if you fell asleep while reading Shakespeare’s intense tragedy and your television was tuned in to a rerun of “Father Knows Best,” complete with vintage commercials.
The resulting dream might resemble the trippy mash-up that is “Trash Macbeth,” a clever participatory production that defies description — but surely epitomizes the mission of the Equally Represented Arts Theatre.
Boiling down “Macbeth” into basic love, death, power, paranoia and bloodlust themes, the innovative ERA troupe has transformed The Chapel space into imaginative performance art, using every possible inch to create distinctive sights and sounds.
Special mention to director Lucy Cashion for her outside-the-box vision, and dramaturg Will Bonfiglio for his shrewd slice-and-dice adaptation.
They have repurposed the cautionary tale of ruthless royals in medieval Scotland by looking through the judgmental lens of 1950s social mores, with a fetching retro chic look. Shakespeare’s dramatic text is blended with Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” the Book of Revelations, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” and authentic ’50s advertisements.
Just go with it and enjoy the multi-sensory experimentation. The dynamic ensemble brings out the terror-tinged melodrama with much aplomb.
Guests arrive at Macbeth’s Inverness castle with gaiety in the air. At this regal dinner party, tuxedo-clad men smoke pipes while stylish women cordially chat, as wine and water flow.
Some audience members sit at the banquet table and are assigned the role of King Duncan, guest of honor, reciting Scene 7 lines from the provided handout, which is received, along with a goblet and fortune cookie, upon entrance.
Oh, those dark arts will come into play. This is after all, “The Scottish Play,” and with that heavy burden, one expects the supernatural and superstitions. An eeriness pervades.
In their poised Ladies Home Journal-style, a trio of housewives conjures up the stifling suburban customs of the Eisenhower era. Ellie Schwetye embodies haughty manners maven Emily Post, Maggie Conroy is whirlwind expectant mom Lady Macduff, and Rachel Tibbetts assumes happy homemaker Lady Macbeth.
The three women also portray the iconic witches, dispensing helpful household tips with great precision. Obsessed with cleanliness and worried about the status quo, the upper crust social climbers twirl around, hawking products in a frenzied Stepford Wives-fashion.
A feisty Mitch Eagles plays Macbeth like a swaggering frat boy whose ambitions and arrogance steer him wrong, while macho men Macduff, Carl Overly Jr., and Banquo, Nic Tayborn, act like chummy neighbors hanging out at the Country Club.
The boys club rules, and we have a ringside seat to the sound and fury. A symbolic red stands out in lighting, set décor and fashions.
Composer Joe Taylor and musician Philip Zahnd punctuate the action and enhance the mood. Skilled technical work by lighting designer Erik Kuhn, costume designer Meredith LaBounty and scenic designers Kristin Cassidy, Wilson Webel and Cashion add layers of intrigue.
Erik Kuhn’s fight choreography is strong, too, with sturdy umbrellas substituting for swords. The cast nimbly moves throughout the great hall setting, confident in the material. Cashion challenges the cast with frenetic and fast-paced scenes that hold our attention.
Instead of viewing the slaughtered children, Lady Macduff lovingly lays out fresh-laundered baby clothes from a wicker crib. The effect is still chilling.
With its stylish flourishes and creativity run amok in a loving way, this 2-hour full-length production stands out on a number of levels, and deserves to be seen.
When: 8 p.m.Wednesday through Saturday
Where: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis