Macbitches wrestles with the always-zeitgeisty question of whether art that depicts immorality leads to a perpetuation of that depicted immorality outside of art, for audiences and the participating artists alike.
The thinking goes: if the stories we tell and retell each other shape who we are — and how we act and think — then might stories about objectionable displays of behavior inspire viewers to mimic such behavior in their own lives?
Sophie McIntosh’s Macbitches, a new play now running at the Chain Theatre, probes these queries through characters particularly impressionable to art’s influence over them: college actors (it’s a spiritual prequel to Ana Nogueira’s Which Way to the Stage). By trade, thespians have a flimsy grasp on the tenuous reality rooted in the slippery relationship dynamics between identity and performance. And when it comes to adolescent actors still in the throes of struggling to decide who they want to be — refracted against the flawed external validation and acceptance that they remodel themselves in pursuit of, despite the imperfect (to say the least) adjudicators — it stands to reason that the stories they’re cast to act in will color/dictate their growth.
Case in point: Macbitches’ ensemble, fresh off auditioning to play Lady Macbeth in their school’s upcoming production, start channeling the unseemlier attributes of Lady Macbeth’s persona outside the confines of a theater. Actors are prone to theatrics (it’s literally their job), as are drama school students, and in their uber-committed and youthfully-impassioned hands, Shakespeare’s scripted theatrics begin to rear their unfortunate head in the characters’ interpersonal interactions.
But, is reenacting Macbeth‘s inherited narratives responsible for injecting these impulses into them? Or, is this centuries-old text still relevant because it captures evergreen human actions? To riff on the title: does Macbeth turn them into bitches (Lady Macbeth: an iconic bitch)?
In other words: chicken or egg?
The answer, as always: it depends — on a case-by-case, situational basis.
Macbitches makes sure to demonstrate how some of its characters achieve real-life catharsis through performance, the upside to engaging with art that dabbles in humanity’s cyclical ills.
Is there a one-size-fits-all solution to depiction as perpetuation? Probably not. But by telling and retelling stories like Macbitches steeped in such dilemmas, perhaps we can become more cognizant and get a better handle on such dangers.