Erin Viets, Un Joo Christopher, Haley Johnson, and Leah Dalrymple in macbitches (Unicorn Theatre/Cynthia Levin)
It’s extremely clear from the start that macbitches, currently onstage at the Unicorn Theatre, has been crafted by and for those who would self-identify as Theatre People. Centered on a group of BFA Acting students who live and breathe all things theatre, their passion and total immersion in this world feel impressively authentic. I immediately felt thrust back into my own acting training program and that nostalgia didn’t let up until the house lights came on. It no doubt helps that these young women, who constantly rehash the nuances of their past performances and engage in debates about everything from casting processes to “anti-Stratfordian” elitism, is directed by Sidonie Garrett, a certified Shakespeare pro as the Executive Artistic Director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.
Sophie McIntosh’s play focuses on one tight-knit friend group in the program on the night the school’s fall casting has been announced. Shocking everyone, an unknown freshman has unexpectedly nabbed the coveted role of Lady Macbeth. In a misguided (or possibly malicious) act of kindness/reconnaissance, the group invites this freshman, Hailey (Hannah Elizabeth Freeman), to join in their drunken audition postmortem. Some—specifically the patient and grounded Piper (Haley Johnson)—are more welcoming than others. The others are less than enthused and don’t hide it; acerbic Lexi (Erin Viets), cynical Cam (Un Joo Christopher), and especially Rachel (Leah Dalrymple), the group’s, and possibly the entire department’s, queen bee and the understood shoo-in for Lady M, clearly tolerate the exhaustingly wide-eyed girl’s presence only as a means to size her up.
Macbitches focuses sharply on these five young women and their deep, if fraught, friendship. But it also issues a thoughtful and biting portrait of the challenges they face in this specific world they inhabit. This kind of intensive program is designed to help young people grow and explore their deepest selves while simultaneously breaking them down and flooding them with insecurity. This is also an environment filled to the brim with destructive and often predatory sexual politics, which have not been eradicated in a post-Me Too landscape but have evolved to take on a more surreptitious, less identifiable form.
These young women are funny and compelling, as are the cast of actors portraying them on the Unicorn’s intimate black box stage. Under Garrett’s swift and nuanced direction, the show is a tight 85 minutes that is likely to delight even those without firsthand knowledge of this kind of theatrical environment—though it will certainly pack a special emotional wallop for those current and former theatre kids in the audience.
“Macbitches” runs through November 5 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St. For more information, call 816-531-7529 or visit unicorntheatre.org.