The Directors Studio’s production of Richard Vetere’s newest work, Lady Macbeth and Her Lover, is decent. The story and its themes are so intriguing that I want everything about this production to be better.
Inspired by the lives of acclaimed poets Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Bishop, the story opens with poets and lovers, Corrine (Maja Wampuszyc) and Hope (Christy Escobar), making a suicide pact so they can escape their lives and be together. Corrine is unable to follow through with it, while Hope dies and becomes posthumously famous. Years later Hope’s daughter, Emily (Christy Escobar), comes to Corrine seeking her poetic advice and approval. Initially Corrine seems delusional and cold with her blunt honesty, but the truth is she just wants to be loved. Emily and Corrine become lovers and colleagues, and as Emily grows into a better poet, their relationship changes.
The first act is very much about Corrine, her cowardice and her illusions. After the first scene of the play paints Corrine in a questionable light, it is difficult to care about her desires later in the play. Just as she convinced Hope to commit suicide, she manipulates Emily to stay with her, to be her protégé and her lover. The reason Emily decides to stay is unclear, but it isn’t until the second act when Emily begins to present as a full character with desires of her own. The second act has a shift of power and conflict, which is the saving grace of the whole performance.
Brittany Vasta’s scenic design and Jennifer Fisher’s costume design are the most finished elements of the show. The set is a collection of coordinated furniture with sheer curtains that give projections life. The costumes show the passage of time and the characters’ personal transitions very clearly.
The majority of the movement feels very natural, yet Michelle Bossy’s direction lacks the edge and suspense to spotlight the complex world of the play. There are moments in which the actors sit or stand still for 5-10 minutes length of conversation. In addition to the sometimes robotic delivery of lines, this choice is problematic.
Maja Wampuszyc feels very unnatural. Her speech has a cadence that suggests she memorized the lines in a particular way. This is unbearable because she does most of the talking. Only a handful of the moments she plays actually feel truthful – which is ironic because her character, Corrine, is so committed to truthfulness.
Christy Escobar, seems a strong actor and this comes through in a few moments of the play, yet it’s hard to see her ability when her scene partner is spitting out words like punching numbers into a calculator. In the second act, the two of them have a far better chemistry. This is likely due to the presence of conflict and a clear power shift .
Richard Vetere’s dialogue is very poetic – intriguing, beautiful and full of occasionally misguided wisdom – but the poetry often obscures the function of conversation. It is his chosen theme and inspiration that I find most captivating, and it is the exploration of this theme that fuels my desire for this work to be a thousand time better than it currently presents.
In theme, the play grapples with the complicated feelings and choices that are required to be a good poet. The scenes, and Corrine’s attitude in particular, alludes to the idea that a poet (or any artist, perhaps) requires a thorough exploration of one’s own darkness. She says, “There is something rich and wicked in digging deep into places the majority of people don’t want to think about.” She then attests that Hope, Emily’s genius-of-a-poet mother, was a failure of a human being because she chose to be a poet first. Corrine then begs Emily to dig deep inside herself in order to become a better poet, as if she cannot be good otherwise. I do not contend that the exploration of personal darkness can be a choice, nor that it can be mined for creativity and yield great artistic work. However, the circumstances of this play do not comment on or allude to the mental illnesses or physiological traumas that often accompany the struggles that brilliant artists have experienced in their lives. Considering the lives of the great poets this work is inspired by, this neglect seems a grave error.
The exploration of this subject matter is very gripping and bothersome – which is why I want Lady Macbeth and Her Lover to improve toward greatness. Work that causes me to ruminate over the existential struggles of artists is worth perfecting.
Lady Macbeth and Her Lover, The Directors Studio at The Directors Company, 311 West 43rd Street, Suite 409. Closes November 19th.