From left to right, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick (Witch 1), Tamsen Glaser (Banquo), Charlotte Schweiger (Macbeth), and Laakan McHardy (Witch 2), in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s MAC BETH. Photo by Navid Baraty
From left to right, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick (Witch 1), Tamsen Glaser (Banquo), Charlotte Schweiger (Macbeth), and Laakan McHardy (Witch 2), in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s MAC BETH. Photo by Navid Baraty

“Mean Girls,” meet “Macbeth,” or as theater insiders/folks refer to it, “That Scottish Play.” Or as this production prefers, “MAC BETH.”

Seattle Repertory Theatre presents an all-female cast in a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, “MAC BETH,” created by Ericka Schmidt. She also directs the play, which runs through June 24 in the Leo K. Theatre at the Rep, the first-ever Shakespeare play performed in that theatre. The production is part of the Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival.

Schmidt’s inspiration came from the catastrophic and highly-publicized stabbing cases involving young American girls. She began to envision what “Macbeth,” and its themes would look like in the context of bullying and female friendships. In a fascinating twist, she adds cell phones and backpacks to juxtapose the 1606 drama with the 21st century.

In Schmidt’s innovative adaptation, seven young women in prep-school attire, gather after school to re-tell the story of “Macbeth,” role-playing each one of Shakespeare’s infamous roles — from Lady Macbeth to MacDuff to the title role itself.

“Macbeth,” has remained one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and popular plays throughout its 400-year history. Half the length of “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, packed with witches, ghosts, and prophecies, and the destructive effects of ambition.

It’s noisy, bloody and violent. From the play’s dark beginning, “Macbeth,” never lets up. Scholars advise that it “dramatizes the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake.”
Sound familiar?

If you’re unfamiliar with “Macbeth,” (and yes, some are), at first, you could feel a bit lost. Which actor is Macbeth, etc.? This will sort itself out. By the way, the girls refer to the play as, “MAC BETH,” Beth being a surname.

The season is fall.

The time is dusk.

The place is an abandoned lot.

Surrounded by stalks of dried-up foliage, the drama plays out on an a filthy concrete patch, cluttered with an grimy overturned sofa that has seen better days, an old beat-up  tire, a rusted clawed bathtub, a couple of cement blocks, and bits of garbage scattered about.

A brave Scottish general named Macbeth overhears a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. When Macduff discovers Duncan’s body, he becomes suspicious.

Once Macbeth commits one murder, he can’t stop. He has everyone around him murdered to cover up his heinous crimes. Except Lady Macbeth and Macduff. She dies offstage, supposedly by her own hand.

Macduff lives to fight another day. Macbeth taunts Macduff, bragging that he cannot be killed by a born of a woman. No problem. Macduff was not technically born of a woman — his was a Caesarian birth. He fights Macbeth and kills him.

As the actors immerse themselves further and further in this infamous tragedy, the line between real life and bloody fantasy becomes increasingly blurred, and the actors become more and more disarrayed and dirty. Off go the hooded capes, the prep school jackets, and in some instances, their white blouses.

The “Double, double, toil and trouble” trio of witches are portrayed by Sophie Kelly-Hedrick (Witch 1), Laakan McHardy (Witch 2), and Analiese Emerson Guettinger (Witch 3), and they are irresistible. Garbed in gothic gray, hooded capes that cover their school uniforms, they chant their prophecies around a huge tire — their make-believe caldron. With delightful comedic timing, they even get in a few “knock-knock/who’s there” bits. My favorite witch moment? When they stir up a brew of vile ingredients. Don’t invite these three to your potluck.

They also double as other characters. Laakan McHardy has so much energy; she could light a solar power panel. Analiese Emerson Guettinger embodies mischief. And when Sophie Kelly-Hedrick briefly portrays King Duncan with slumped shoulders, a wobbly cane, and a wavering voice, this critic wanted to rush onstage and hug her.

Izabel Mar portrays Lady Macbeth. Mars is a beautiful young woman and a talented actor. But in Shakespearean circles, her Lady Macbeth seems too nice. Lady Macbeth should be a nasty piece of work — Shakespeare’s most evil and ruthless villainess who uses her wiles and beauty to manipulate others. Think Mean Girl meets Cersei Lannister in “Game of Thrones.” Eventually her deteriorating mental state culminates in her sleepwalking scene, when she utters “Out, damned spot.”
However, this is a play within a play — school girls have put their spin on the characters in the Bard’s shortest tragedy. And it’s even shorter than usual; Schmidt cut the script down to 90 minutes without intermission.

As Macbeth, Charlotte Schwinger must display a range of emotions. From Macbeth’s proud and ambitious nature to his reluctance to kill Duncan, his insecurities when Lady M attacks his manhood, to his fear and guilt, after doing so.

The talented Tamsen Glaser, as Macbeth’s noble friend Banquo, possesses a dynamic and riveting stage presence. She’s an actor to watch — I predict she will go on to do great things. Plus she makes a wonderful ghost. Klarissa Marie Robles portrays MacDuff, the avenging hero, with sensitivity and strength, especially when weeping over his wife and children being murdered.

The middle section of the production suffers from the shrieking of voices. The shrillness makes it harder to understand the lines. Yes, they are playing school girls, and yes, school girls shriek when they are excited and emotional. They just need to modulate.

According to a theatrical superstition, called the Scottish curse, speaking the name Macbeth inside a theatre will cause disaster. A variation of the superstition also forbids quoting it within a theatre except as part of an actual rehearsal or performance of the play. Those who break the rules must perform time-honored rituals to undo the curse: Leave the room, turn around three times, spit, knock on the door three times, and beg to be readmitted.

There have been many instances of such, When Lawrence Olivier played the title role in 1937, he narrowly escaped death as a heavy weight swung from the fly loft above, crushing the chair where he had been seated until moments before.

A 1942 production directed by and starring John Gielgud suffered four fatalities during its run, including two of the witches and Duncan. The set was quickly repainted and used for light comedy, but even then the lead actor died suddenly.

The young actors at Seattle Rep know better than to utter a gratuitous “Macbeth.” And for those who love the Bard’s poetic verse, rest assured. Schmidt sticks to iambic pentameter. You will recognize many of the famous phrases and lines. But prepare yourself. There will be blood, along with sudden loud noises, strobe lights, and graphic violence. And some marvelous unexpected stage elements.

This energetic ensemble of young women throw themselves into the drama with passion and heart. The witches have the last say, and it’s unforgettable. Some would even say gorish-ly entertaining. I’ve sworn not to be a spoiler. Enough to say you don’t want to miss it.

Recommended for age 16 and older, “MAC BETH,” runs 90 minutes without intermission Tuesday —Sunday through June 24 in the Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Tickets start at $17; Discounted tickets for groups of 10+ may be purchased by calling 206.443.2224. For ticket reservations, call the Seattle Repertory Theatre Box Office at 206.443.2222 or toll-free at 877.900.9285, or go online at SeattleRep.org.