Macchin: The Lamentable Tragedie Of Jay Leno
nytheatre.com review by Joe Beaudin
August 15, 2010
I'm one of those theatre maniacs who love it when companies take a Shakespeare play and stick it in another era or tweak it a bit to make it more relevant; I like it when a comedy is portrayed as a tragedy or when a tragedy is transformed into a ridiculous comedy. I marvel at the cleverness, the timeless language that seems to fit in any situation, and the ability to show that a 500-year-old story still makes sense today and seems pertinent in our present lives. Macchin: The Lamentable Tragedie of Jay Leno boldly attempts this feat but ultimately comes up a little short in fully succeeding.
Here's the plot: It's Macbeth. But with late night TV icons as the characters. Macbeth is Jay Leno. Lady Macbeth is His Manager. King Duncan is Johnny Carson. Banquo is Conan. You get the picture. The story of Macbeth is used to tell the story of the Late Night wars that plagued the airwaves last year with the passing of the torch of The Tonight Show host from Jay Leno to Conan O'Brien and then back to Jay Leno again. This "adaptation" begins with Johnny Carson, the king of late night, retiring and then hailing David Letterman as the new king of late night. Jay Leno gets jealous, plots with his manager, and kills Johnny Carson. Leno becomes host of The Tonight Show and therefore the new king of late night. And with that, the tragedy begins.
Writer and director Zachary Stewart does a pretty nice job of mixing the original text with some witty present-day language to portray his story. Some soliloquies are kept in their original format and some go off into different directions. Another clever addition is the use of a single microphone and stand downstage: this prop is used whenever a character has a monologue and is speaking to the audience.
In my opinion, the performances are hit and miss. Some of the actors are able to juggle the Shakespearean dialogue with the modern additions very well, while some have trouble. Joshua Key-Maginnis as Jay Leno has some nice moments, especially mimicking a few popular Lenoisms here and there, but seems to fumble the Shakespearean dialogue. Specifically, the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech feels flat and overlooked by Key-Maginnis. Whereas, John Kurzynowski as Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (aka Macduff) skillfully commits to both styles with comical heightened energy and emotion, while truthfully pledging his intentions.
And this is where the show falls short of perfection. The situation that these characters are in is quite dramatic: there's murder, guilt, spirits, minds going crazy. However, it seems that the characters are sometimes on the outside looking in and commenting on themselves, rather than living in this insane situation. I think the "funny" is in the fish out of water: late night comics involved in serious murder and deceit. I am nit-picking here because the show does have some really original and surprising moments. I just think it could be better.