Friday, July 19, 2013

"Wyrd Sisters" A Theater Review

Purusant to my normal review policy, I'll have a brief non-Spoiler review at the top, followed by a more comprehensive Spoiler review after the poster.

Wyrd Sisters is an adaptation of a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel of the same name.  Unlike some of the other more Discworld intensive productions that the fledgling MorBacon Theater Company could have put on, however, Wyrd Sisters doesn't require you to have read that book or, indeed, any Dicworld book at all.  A passing familiarity with Macbeth, on the other hand, would be quite useful.

Terry Prachett's work is usually very funny, and Wyrd Sisters is no exception.  Translating the humor from the page to the stage takes effort, and I'm glad to say that in this case the work paid off.  Wyrd Sisters is good material competently executed.  If you're a fan of small theater and are in Chicago this weekend or next, you could do far worse than spend a couple of hours at the Side Project Theater with the Wyrd Sisters.

By the pricking of my thumb, something SPOILER this way comes!

When Burnham SPOILER comes to Dunsinane....

Wyrd Sisters puts me in an unusual position.  Normally, when you review adapted material you find yourself in one of two categories: you've read (or seen or played) the source material, or you haven't.  Indeed, many of my recent reviews deal heavily with a comparison between book and screen.  What's complicated about this review, however, is that while I did in fact read the book Wyrd Sisters, it was many years ago, and I only vaguely recalled that it had something to do with a play and witches.  I'm a Discworld fan, but my favorite books of Pratchett's are actually the Night Watch books like Guards, Guards! and Men at Arms.  And Good Omens, of course, which isn't Discworld at all.

That lack of memory about Wyrd Sisters worked to my advantage, however.  The play is, more than anything else, a comedy, and nothing ruins humor more than knowing the jokes ahead of time.  So from a personal enjoyment standpoint not remembering the book was perfect. It reduces my ability to compare the book to the play, of course, but that's an acceptable trade-off.

So rather than discuss how the translation to a play was handled, we'll just talk about the production itself.  First off, let me say that Wyrd Sisters was cannily chosen.   Not only, as I mentioned in the introduction, does the story not require any particular knowledge about Discworld or Pratchett's other works, but it also deals with the power of theater itself, which works exceptionally well in a theater setting.

The story, very broadly, is that of Macbeth as seen from the perspective of the three witches from the beginning of Shakespeare's work.  In that respect, as well as in the humorous approach they both take, Wyrd Sisters reminds me of another of my favorite works, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  Unlike that latter work, however, the witches in Wyrd Sisters aren't trapped by the Macbeth narrative the way poor doomed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in Hamlet.  Rather, the witches here become active participants in the goings on and, contrary to their own rules, start to meddle.  Hi-jinks ensue.

The acting varies from competent to excellent, with Susan Wingerter's Nanny Ogg in particular being almost exactly how I'd pictured her character from the books.  I also found Shantelle Szyper's Duke Felmet to be surprisingly sympathetic for the nominal villain of the piece, and the running gag about her hands was nicely played.  

That does bring up an interesting aspect to the production.  Wyrd Sisters has an all female cast, but doesn't make a big deal about that fact.  After a conversation with the production's artistic director, I learned that the all female cast wasn't a conscious decision to play it that way.  Instead, they opted to choose the best nine actors of the forty or so who auditioned, regardless of gender.  I'm told that, for whatever reason, the Chicago theater scene has far more female actors than male ones, and as such there are often better women available than men for any given production.  I'm not conversant enough with the local acting troupes to know if that's correct or not, but the decision to ignore gender as a factor in their casting has led Wyrd Sisters to become an even more poignant mirror to Macbeth.  After all, when Shakespeare's play from the perspective of the male murderer turned king was first performed, it was with an all male cast, with men playing the female roles.  How appropriate, then, that the opposing view as seen by the female witches should then have an all female cast?

The production is intimate and minimalist, by which we mean it is held in a small room with little in the way of complicated sets.  But that's alright.  It means that even someone in the furthest row of seats, as I myself was, is far closer to the action than anyone would normally expect in a larger and more expensive theater.  Anyone who's visited the Neo-Futurarium to see Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (I almost typed "blond" just there which would be a completely different thing) will be familiar with the small independent theater vibe.  Wyrd Sisters and the Side Project Theater shares a similar feel.

Overall, as I said in the spoiler-free version, this is a fun production.  For $15 you're getting a very good deal on some quality funny theater.  And if you're uncertain, I'm told that Thursday the 25th is pay what you can night.  If you're a fan of Shakespeare, Discworld, or just like a quick, funny show, and happen to be in or near Chicago this weekend or next, I'd recommend you take the time to go see Wyrd Sisters.

Wyrd Sisters is being performed at the Side Project Theater, 1439 W Jarvis Ave Chicago, IL, 60626, (773) 973-2150.  Shows are at 8 pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and 2 pm on Sunday through July 27th.  Tickets can be purchased online here


  1. Really wish I could see this! I agree with you about which Discworld books are best, especially for those who need an introduction to the series. Guards, Guards is THE one I'd choose for someone who hasn't read any Pratchett, unless they're children and the Tiffany Aching books would be more suitable. I wish you had a third segment to your review that pretty much told everything. ;-)

    1. I suppose I could have been more spoilery in the review, but with a comedy I'm leery of spoiling the jokes. I would love to see Guards, Guards done live at some point, that's for sure.