THE MACBETH SHOW adapted from William Shakespeare, directed by Rebecca Northan, with Ryan Gladstone, Alex Dallas, Ruby Dallas, Derek Flores, Chris Gibbs and Bruce Horak. Presented by Monster Theatre at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 15) and runs to May 1, Thursday-Saturday 9 pm. $15. 416-343-0011. Rating: NNNNN
Think Macbeth's a bloody tragedy suitable only for Bard-o-philes? Then check out director Rebecca Northan's twist on the tale of the Scottish laird whose ambition, wife and a trio of witches get the better of him.
The Macbeth Show edits, chops and blends the story into a 75-minute version using six actors, masks and a bunch of puppets. The fact that the group isn't paying blind homage at a 400-year-old shrine is pretty clear in the work's subtitle, F*#king With Shakespeare.
Still, Northan swears she and the company attack the play from a place of affection, not disrespect.
"I love the fact that Macbeth has such a clear story line," says Northan, who did a version of the piece at Calgary's Loose Moose Theatre several years ago.
Mentor and Loose Moose head Keith Johnstone taught her the importance of storytelling and the need to create improvisational works that audiences respond to with anything but indifference.
"The regular urban, hip Loose Moose audience got its dark humour, but some people just detested it."
Northan raises her eyes heavenward in mock horror.
"My boyfriend's father was an English teacher who'd taught the play for years. He wouldn't talk to me for three days after seeing the show."
That version was all male, but here Northan's cast includes powerhouse Alex Dallas as the devious Lady M, and her young daughter Ruby Dallas in several of the children's roles.
"It's amazing to watch Alex in rehearsals. She snaps her fingers and all the boys jump."
And what about Ruby, whose stage work includes the SummerWorks hit Going For Groceries?
"She probably has more professional credits than the rest of the cast combined," deadpans Northan. "Ruby brings a freshness to the show, and you have to listen when a 10-year-old tells you it's stupid to play a scene a certain way."
We're talking in the NOW Lounge, where Northan and Derek Flores present the occasional comedy evening Just For NOW. But don't pigeonhole her as a comic. She has a resumé the length of your arm that takes in productions both here and in Calgary.
She's done Shakespeare out west, much of it with talented director Kevin McKendrick, and later formed a group called Upstart Crows that presented cut-down versions of the Bard outdoors and in pubs. Toronto audiences last saw her in a poignant turn as Jack the Ripper's final victim in Dear Boss.
"Pigeonholing is a pet peeve of mine," sighs Northan, a four-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee .
"Even in Calgary, when I was cast in a play I'd get the occasional actor saying, 'You're that improv chick. Will you freak out at some point, leave the script and improv your lines?'
"I felt like responding, 'You're that actor guy. Can you have a spontaneous conversation or do you need a script?'"
Northan not only balances comedy and theatre, but she's also good at juggling directing and performing. The night after The Macbeth Show opens, she'll be across town at the Drake Hotel doing both jobs with the improv soap opera Dazed With Our Lives. Not hard to guess that this edition, Drake '55, is set in the 50s. Northan plays Trinity Bellwoods, heiress to the Drake Hotel and a feminist before the phrase was coined.
"We've played previously in the Tim Sims Playhouse, but we want to move to another venue to shift the perspective. Our cast - among them Peter Oldring, Albert Howell, Janet Van De Graaff and Lisa Merchant - includes actors who improvise and improvisers who act.
"Loose Moose encouraged us to improv serious as well as comic scenes to give a performance some real variety of tone. I know that an audience can't laugh for two hours straight."
And watch out, Stratford. Northan's throwing down the gauntlet to the Bard behemoth to the west, which is also staging Macbeth this season. She wants to bring her cheeky version of the Scottish play to Stratford, have audiences see both shows and then vote on which they like best.
"Bring it on, we say. It could be like the Iron Chef of theatre. Let's see if they have the balls to take us on. "