L.L. West’s comedy “Weyward Sisters,” about three women who play witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” is admirably ambitious. It aims for witty and smart. Too often, though, it’s only clever and pedantic.
Pygmalion Productions’ backstage comedy is about two unprepared dueling divas and a third who tries to get everyone to work together. The action occurs in a theater dressing room, with an opening through which the actors exit to perform their lines — except for a humorous introductory skit that provides a quick and necessary summary of the story of “Macbeth.”
There’s a lot of word play, but the jokes evoke smiles, rarely laughter. While Leandra (Betsy West) is lecturing Skye (Ali Lente) about “theatrical conventions,” in walks Fioon (Tamara Howell). She’s misheard the conversation and says that she, too, loves acting at conventions. (Later, after it’s obvious they are real witches, Leandra jokes that Skye is off to a ”coven-tion.”) They complain about the playwright, “The Brad,” and then learn he’s “The Bard.”
There’s also a lot of dissemination of information. The playwright has done impressive homework about Shakespeare and witches, but it shows too much. In a segment you hope has an eventual payoff (it doesn’t), Leandra condescendingly gives a lengthy tutorial on lines written in rhythm that stops the drama cold.
There’s scant action. For most of the play, nothing is at stake but the characters’ egos, so the actors need withering putdowns scathingly delivered. Instead, they get a running gag about the difference between “special” and “particular” and a long, alliterative tongue-twister spell that gets repeated until it’s, finally, delivered perfectly.
The three talented, likable actors are valiant; the script and direction are the problem: Far too many lines are delivered in one loud pitch. Variety, please.
Of course, there’s the superstition that saying aloud The Scottish Play’s title brings a curse. When it’s inevitably said, there’s thunder and lightning, and the play takes a left turn.
Slowly, you realize that you’re not simply backstage, that the actors are real witches. And when they exit to say their lines, it’s to a world where there are consequences. When Fioon mangles one crucial word in the famous prophecy, it changes the whole Macbeth story. They become the Weyward sisters (“ward” or “weird” means “fate”), commissioned to “craft the future to match the prophecy” they bungled.
We’re now in some alternate zany fantasy, and it’s hard to adjust and understand. At a comedy’s end you should delight in how it all comes together. Here, you’re genuinely confused and frustrated. You’re also bored by the recrafting of the supposedly original Macbeth story into the one we already know: It’s predictable. Whatever fun there was is gone.
‘The Weyward Sisters‘
Story offers fun moments, but leaves theatergoers asking: “What was that about?”
When • Reviewed Nov. 3; continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m., through Nov. 18; additional matinee Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-20; 801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org