Guess what show I’m talking about: there’s a musical based on an old English tale about a couple who can’t seem to stop murdering people to keep their successful food business open. If you guessed Sweeney Todd you would be wrong, I’m talking about Scotland, Pa. The new Off-Broadway show by the Roundabout Theater company that is playing at the Laura Pels theater. A disclaimer beforehand: I saw the show in previews any of the elements I will discuss are up for change.
Scotland, Pa. is based on the 2001 movie of the same name and takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the modern era. In the small town of Scotland there’s a successful burger-joint run by Norm Duncan, in his employ is the unsuccessful entrepreneur Joe ‘Mack’ McBeth. Joe has a lot of ideas for innovation that Norm simply ignores. Joe’s wife Pat becomes dissatisfied with the situation but after a visit by some fortune-hippies their life gets turned around. They are inspired to rob Duncan to bring Joe’s plans for a drive-thru to reality, but they accidentally kill him in the process. After buying the burger-joint from Malcolm, Duncan’s son, Joe and Pat turn the joint into ‘McBeth’s,’ a clever McDonalds parody. All seems well until detective McDuff shows up to investigate Duncan’s murder. Will the McBeth’s be able to keep her away from their secret? If you know Shakespeare you probably already know the outcome, but the modernization is hilarious nonetheless.
The scenic design by Anna Louizos is very simple but works very well with Lonny Price’s direction. The set consists of two basic elements: moving canvas panels with woods painted on it and the set of the burgerjoint. The rest of the set is built more by suggestions and small props like chairs and tables. The lighting design Jeannette Yew is nothing special, its mostly subordinate to the action and the setting but occasionally it sets the mood for the scene. Where the lighting really works is in the scenes where the Hippies perform their rituals and the interrogation scene that opens the second act.
I think what really sets this particular show apart from all the other movie-adaptations is the writing by Michael Mitnick. The text isn’t subordinate to the original screenplay and it evolves into its own thing. The characters are written to be very relatable even though some of them are murderers. There is one scene in particular that I won’t spoil but it hit me like a ton of bricks. They have set up Banko (Jay Armstrong Johnson) as a lonesome stoner in the first act, very dependent and wanting for friendship. In the second act however they turn this audience assumption about him around in a brilliant scene between him and Mack (Ryan McCartan).
The two main characters of the play are also written and performed very well. They set up this miserable situation which makes it believable for Pat’s (Taylor Iman Jones) aspirations to exist. Taylor Iman Jones portrays Pat McBeth as a very real person instead of the emotional manipulator that Lady Macbeth is so often made out to be, it also helps the performance of Ryan McCartan as Mack because their relationship seems all the more real.
Most of the other characters are played for laughs but they have incredible timing and know their characters very well. A standout-performance is Will Meyers as Malcolm, Duncan’s son. He plays the annoying teenager which could become very stale but there’s a twist to his character that’s almost as effective as the emotional twist they pull with Banko.
Both Banko and Malcolm also get great songs to accompany or to set-up their character twists ‘Kick-ass Party,’ and ‘Why I Love Football.’ The Hippies also get a great song ‘Destiny, Baby’ that gets multiple reprises throughout the show. Adam Gwon (Ordinary Lives) wrote the music and lyrics and it complements Michael Mitnick’s book really well. Each of the songs has its own specific sound and feel and sometimes that compromises the unity of the show, but the songs really do work well within the moment and scene they’re performed in.
Creatives are often too afraid to make changes and the adaptation therefore never evolves into its own thing, it gets stuck as just an adaptation.
I think this small, funny show could do very well in colleges and with regional productions as it has a small cast and a not-too-complicated set. As for this production, I have never been more satisfied with a movie-adaptation. Creatives are often too afraid to make changes and the adaptation therefore never evolves into its own thing, it gets stuck as just an adaptation. This show becomes its own thing and then some. If you have a chance to see this show off-Broadway I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am planning on seeing it again once it officially opens and I hope it becomes available for licensing soon.
Book: Michael Mitnick Music & Lyrics: Adam Gwon Scenic Design: Anna Louizos Costume Design: Tracy Christensen Lighting Design: Jeanette Yew Sound Design: Jon Weston Hair, Wig & Make-up Design: J. Jared Janas Orchestrations: Frank Galgano & Matt Castle Fight Director: Thomas Schall Production Stage Manager: Timothy R. Semon Music Director: Vadim Feichtner Choreographer: Josh Rhodes
Director: Lonny Price Original Screenplay: Billy Morrissette
Seen at: the Laura Pels Blackbox theater, NY, Seen on: 9/22/2019