Direst Cruelty?

Since its 2001 premiere, writer-producer-designer-director Frank Cwiklik's Bitch Macbeth has garnered enough interest to be revived twice, with the current revival at Brooklyn's Brick Theater. Cwiklik has made some bold choices. Unfortunately, didactic and wearyingly repetitive dialogue and a one-dimensionally acted, illogically constructed principal role make this second revival conspire against its auteur's best intentions. In Bitch Macbeth Thane Macbeth (Adam Swiderski) is a comparatively sensitive soul ill at ease with the brutality of his dystopian culture. In this culture, naked young women from fallen clans are auctioned as sex slaves, and collective belief in inexorable Fate, personified by a coven of dominatrix “domgidas,” who read the future in men's wounds after whipping them, enables the masters to pity themselves as slaves. Meanwhile, Macbeth's "bitch" or "femme" tries to bury the humiliation and pain of her slave past by pushing Macbeth to kill his way to the top of the oligarchy.

Or, perhaps, to the highest level of the video game. In this world, politics is a competitive sport. Characters fight their way up in accordance with strict rules, and communicate in a limited glossary of commonly understood terms denoting status and competition, such as “challenge,” and “take all.” The "game" even has a referee, as over the slave auctions and other rituals presides "RBiter" (Fred Backus). This RBiter is the Arbiter of all destinies, which R indeed, Bitter.

The cast contains a few standouts, including Swiderski's nuanced, tormented Macbeth and Mercedes Emelina's understated, quixotic Top Domgida. As Femme Macbeth, the driving force of the action, actress Samantha Mason is not a force to be reckoned with. Mason delivers her lines in a soft, squeaky, almost monotone whine. Mason sometimes achieves cloying affectation but never genuine emotion, never showing why Macbeth is so cowed by her. A large part of the problem is in the writing of the role. "I am undone by my sex,” Femme Macbeth explains. “I was sold early. Lucky to land soft, I learned. He taught me. There are men of two types: malleable and intractable. There are two types of women: sold and kept. I swore I would be kept. I am undone by my sex."

Undone also by this repetitive preaching, Femme Macbeth is also the perfect, and perfectly implausible, chauvinist fantasy woman. She uses her sex appeal to wrest power from the most “malleable” of the men who run her society, then blames her pain illogically on her femaleness (“my sex”) -- rather than on the other “sex,” which has “sold”, bought, and hurt her.

Overall, the script of Bitch Macbeth suffers from pretentious verbal haemorrhaging. "I sweat out poisons and rehabilitate my senses," one Small Asbury (David Mills Boynton), the rebellious heir apparent of the "prime clan," tells his lover. "I can't comprehend my own struggle... I am perpetually adolescent... I wonder what you see in me and what that really means. It's like hell on earth."

One of the most famous images of Lady Macbeth is John Singer Sargent's painting of Ellen Terry in the role. Statuesque, decked out like a serpent in a skintight gown of gleaming green metallic scales, Terry's Lady Macbeth exuded power. At the same time, rapturously holding aloft her husband's crown, she worshipped his state-given authority. On the Victorian stage, Terry threw the schizoid nature of this character -- the perfectly cruel lamia and cruelly perfect submissive wife -- into her society's collective face. Had Mason the acting chops that legend ascribes to Terry, and were Cwiklik's script ruthlessly edited so that subtexts are revealed rather than stated and neo-Victorian misogynist phobia does not pass for metaphysics, Bitch Macbeth might be, as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth begs, filled "top-full with direst cruelty." As is, it's merely dire.

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