To say that actors are a superstitious lot is probably one of the understatements of the century, if not the millennium. That proclivity is nowhere better demonstrated than in the long, tortured history of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," a play not exactly filled with butterflies and fairies, but whose extracurricular history includes a virtually nonstop ledger of death, destruction and other mayhem that pretty much matches what occurs onstage. So it's little wonder then that actors insist that even mentioning the play's name will instantly breed bad luck. That's pretty much the setup for Never Say Macbeth, a slight if at times sweetly charming indie film that posits a science teacher nebbish on a quest to find his actress girlfriend, wherein he of course says the name of the "Scottish play" at a theater, wreaking havoc (at least for a while) on everyone concerned.
The film's press kit proclaims Never Say Macbeth as a cross between Waiting for Guffman and Beetlejuice, which may be more than a bit of wishful thinking. While Macbeth certainly has its charms, it has none of the scabrous and wacky Christopher Guest humor of Guffman, and certainly none of the manic energy and big budget special effects wizardry of Beetlejuice. That said, Macbeth offers an at times delightful, if never very hilarious, look at a community theater group attempting yet another "revisal" of Shakespeare's legendary tragedy.
Macbeth is largely a one man show, written, produced and starring Joe Tyler Gold, who portrays Danny, the hapless Ohio science teacher who treks to the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Los Angeles in search of his ex-girlfriend Ruth (Ilana Kira). Somehow he's discovered she's auditioning for a little theater company headed by an astrology obsessed director, Jason (Alexander Enberg, in one of the funnier performances in the film). Before Danny is able to track down Ruth, he's mentioned the unmentionable (namely Macbeth), refusing to believe the other actors' exhortations that he's brought doom and gloom to the proceedings, and then before he can dispel the curse (according to a well-known if ridiculous spell probably crafted by an out of work choreographer), he's hustled onstage to audition for Jason, despite his insistence that he's not an actor. Narcissistic directors are an easy target, there's no doubt, and Macbeth makes the most of this cliché, with Jason casting Danny improbably as Witch #1 for the mere fact that Danny is a Pisces and that will balance the cast, stargazing-wise.
There's also a subplot involving the theater's history, where a 1950s production of "Macbeth" ended in a tragic fire, killing most of the cast. Needless to say, Danny serves as the linchpin between the two eras as he slowly becomes more and more of a believer in things unseen. Playing out against all this mishegoss is his starcrossed love relationship with Ruth, which is hampered by her infatuation with a preening sitcom star (Mark Delkin), and his new nascent romance with another actress in the cast (Tania Getty).
If it sounds a little busy, it is, and that's probably what leads to some of the comedic entropy that undermines the subtle humor at times. Danny remains a likable, if oafish, character throughout, but there are so many tidbits dropped by the wayside (the sci-fi loving stage manager, the ghosts of productions past) that some of the energy of the piece is diluted. There are also some slightly questionable portrayals here (the catty "show queens," for example) that provide little comedy while simultaneously essaying stereotypes that are not particularly PC, let alone illuminating.
What Macbeth has going for it in spades is an understated charm and a cast that obviously is working overtime to show both the insanity and joy of live theater. Gold and Kira make very appealing leads and deserve work in bigger budget features with more demanding roles where they can really shine. The supporting cast is largely game, even when the dialogue (and especially some of the purported punchlines) are not especially well-crafted. Production values are reasonably high for a film that had next to no budget, with some appealing, if low-fi, special effects (though the climactic fire is largely ridiculous, undercutting some of the tension). The score has its ups and downs, the downs largely being the result of being cheesily synthesized and mixed too high, but one very appealing ethnic cue with vocals is outstanding.
Never Say Macbeth is presented in a generally excellent enhanced 1.78:1 transfer, with excellent color, but occasional contrast issues. Outdoor or brightly lit interior scenes sometimes seem overexposed to the point of blurriness and some of the darker interior scenes are occasionally hard to make out. Overall, however, the image is sharp and well detailed and only ardent videophiles will have much to complain about.
The DD 2.0 soundtrack is sharp and well detailed, with all dialogue crisp and clear. Occasionally (as mentioned above), the underscore is mixed too high and the synth-laden sounds quickly become distracting, but that's really the only downside to a well-realized soundscape.
There are several nice extras included on Never Say Macbeth, chief of which is an appealing commentary track by Gold. There are also some funny outtakes of the sword fight rehearsals and deleted scenes, as well as some Vanguard promos.
Never Say Macbeth is certainly not in a league with Waiting for Guffman, which remains the gold standard of parodies concerning community theater. It's a good, if occasionally strained, effort that merits an evening's rental for any live theater fan.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet