Theater Review: Something Rotten in the State of Kansas Delights in Maccountant | Arts
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Theater Review: Something Rotten in the State of Kansas Delights in Maccountant

Posted by on Wed, Sep 7, 2016 at 2:56 PM

click to enlarge Dan Oliver in Maccountant - PHOTO BY ALEX MANESS
  • photo by Alex Maness
  • Dan Oliver in Maccountant
Maccountant 
★★★★
Through Sept. 17
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
@ Common Ground Theatre

One’s first instinct is to simply laugh Maccountant off. Indeed, the gag-filled season opener for Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern provides ample reason for laughter as artistic director Jaybird O’Berski transplants his freewheeling adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from eleventh-century Scotland to downtown Wichita in the mid-1960s.

O’Berski manifests the absurdity of that premise in his mise-en-scène. The bloody conflicts aren’t played out amid the industrial arc welders and heavy machinery of that city’s airplane manufacturers, nor in the wringing sweat of its surrounding farmlands. Rather, they take place in the Old Town accounting office of the aging Frank Duncan—hardly a hothouse of seething emotions, to the untrained eye.

But in the U.S., where some seven hundred workers are murdered at their jobs each year, the body count racked up in this occasionally kludgy lampoon derives, uncomfortably, from a real place. Likewise, the attack predating the first scene, in which Duncan and his senior staff burst through the door to their office, squares with data showing that two million Americans encounter some form of workplace violence each year. When Bill Macbeth first appears, his shirt and tie badged with the blood of Fat Myron Cawdor—a regional manager who shot his mouth off once too often after making nice with the competition—it’s apparently just the cost of doing business.

O’Berski’s characters—and designer Katharine Whalen’s costumes—veer amusingly among various cultural references. As Banquo, Shelby Hahn’s threads and gruff demeanor seem lifted from the Coen brothers’ debut, Blood Simple, while Rebecca Bossen’s brittle, beautiful Ross clearly emanates from Mad Men's universe as she pursues a risible sexual business agenda.

But many of the comedic dividends in this production recall the directorial work of Christopher Guest, whose films have often chronicled and mocked extreme self-aggrandizement among the mediocre. As played by real-life married couple Dan and Julie Oliver, Bill and Gloria Macbeth are just plain folks from down the block who have begun to suffer from too much ambition. As the pair gets more and more wound up, it gives rise to their darkest soliloquies. Each one elicits a similar response from the speaker’s partner: a look of astonishment and then an inquiry that says, in so many words, just what the hell was that all about? The comic relief provided in these moments is palpable.

Still, the greatest shift in O’Berski’s adaptation is the degree to which it turns all of Shakespeare’s characters into antiheroes.

The usual bad-guy/good-guy split between the two Macbeths and everyone else is sent off a cliff early on. Frank Banquo, a seedy coworker transparently envious of Macbeth’s sudden rise, is no moral paragon. Dale Wolf’s oily portrayal suggests a man who’s made his share of shady deals, including one that further destabilizes the office when his son, a weaselly, lightweight Junior (Marshall Botvinick), is named second in command. Even Jeff Alguire’s Macduff, who vanquishes Macbeth, is a bit of a sleaze.

The women hardly fare better. Ross’s noirish character is repeatedly plagued by Jessica Hudson’s passive-aggressive Lennox. With these and other characters, life, death—and getting one’s hands a little dirty in the process—is always strictly business. The only remotely sympathetic character is Caitlin Wells’s Peggy Macduff, a character who, as Shakespeare fans recall, makes an early departure.

Nancy Merlin, Liam O’Neill, and Wells’s clown-like weird sisters strike a resonant note as immigrant cleaning ladies from the Eastern bloc who have attained extensive knowledge of interoffice affairs through their explorations of the company’s waste bins.

Louis Landry’s jazz-tinged original score adds as much atmosphere to the proceedings as designer Miyuki Su’s pitch-perfect early-sixties office set. Both advance a work where the absurdity of small-scale office politics and turf wars rubs up against the extremes to which everyday people will go in order to emerge victorious.

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