One doesn’t automatically associate Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” with side-splitting comedy. Shrewd Productions is going for just that, however, in the theater company’s new show, “Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan.” It runs through July 6 at the Santa Cruz Theater.
Shrewd Productions, according to the company’s mission statement, is dedicated to “championing unique perspectives and emerging artists” and focusing on “women's voices, new plays, and work developed though a collaborative artistic approach.” “Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan” — Megan Gogerty’s one-woman show telling the story of a female comedian’s desire to play Lady Macbeth — Shrewd explores the lines between drama and comedy, performance and violence, hope and healing.
To learn more about the show, we spoke to director Shannon Grounds (who is also Shrewd Productions’ producing artistic director) and actress Eva McQuade, a rising star on the Austin theater scene.
American-Statesman: Shannon, how did you first encounter “Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan,” and what inspired you to produce and direct it?
Shannon Grounds: I was looking for one-woman shows — specifically a comedy. My initial reasons were largely financial. I wanted to produce another show in the season, but my budget was limited. I found “Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan” and fell in love. I just immediately felt connected to the story and the writer's voice. What's funny is that I found it completely anonymously. Usually, I come to plays because someone pitches them to me, or I already have a relationship with the writer. But it turned out that Megan Gogerty and I actually have all these mutual friends. She attended (the University of Texas) as well; we just weren't there at the same time. As an actor, and a professional woman, I really identified with the ideas in the play about the expectations we have of women, of "what kind" of woman can do certain things or play certain roles, and all those extra barriers women have to overcome to succeed.
What was the casting process like to find the right actress to anchor this one-woman show?
Grounds: It was so easy. It was always Eva. I've wanted to work with her for a long time. I'd seen her on stage and knew she was seriously funny, super smart and capable of being vulnerable. I asked a fellow director, a dear friend, for advice, and they confirmed that they felt Eva was a perfect choice for this show. I couldn't be happier.
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Eva, what aspects of this role speak to you, personally, as a female comedic performer?
Eva McQuade: Oh, so many. I have auditioned for so many things I've been told I was perfect for. However, in the end, I didn't get the part. It is especially difficult trying to branch out and do something other than comedy, like musicals or dramas. People often have a limited idea of what others are capable of doing. Most people look at you and "know" your type immediately. They "know" what you can do. They place you in a box based on what they have seen you do, or what is so disheartening, what you look like. That one stings. A lot. In doing so, they set a limitation on you. It's unfortunate. I see it happen all the time, especially with women and people of color and funny people.
And even though the two industries — stand-up comedy and theater — are completely different, in many aspects they are not at all. Both are male-dominated industries. Men get all the good things, seemingly without even trying. Obviously, that's not true all the time, but more often than not, the men are not judged as harshly as women. But if you love it, and feel passionate about it, you stick with it, through the good times and bad. Because it's all you want to do and can't see yourself doing anything else.
This is a female-centered show, like much of Shrewd Productions' work. How do you think it relates to Shrewd's overall mission of championing unique perspectives and focusing on women's voices?
Grounds: Shrewd has been focused on producing new work, and centering women's voices both in the playwrights we produce and in the stories we tell for almost 15 years now. I think “Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan” fits perfectly into our mission.
Though you're largely known for comedic roles, Eva, it seems like this play might allow you to bring out a darker edge, as well. Is that something you're looking to explore further in your future work?
McQuade: Absolutely. Always. It was actually a concern of mine: People see me and my name and automatically believe it's comedy. And while there are many comedic moments, this show indeed has some darker moments. I think it's an opportunity for folks to see what I can, hopefully, bring to the table other than comedic timing.
And, again, I love making audiences laugh. It's a great feeling to know you're bringing someone joy, especially to the ones who really need it because maybe they're having a rough day and are down. It is a wonderful feeling when someone comes up to you after a show and tells you how appreciative they are for giving them a moment of respite and joy, and allowing them to forget about life for an hour or two. I mean, it's an honor and a gift.
As an actor, though, you want to learn and grow and increase your skillset. It's been really great to explore the darker aspects of this character and myself. As the playwright says in this script, "there is darkness inside of me," so why not have the opportunity to express it more frequently on stage as part of my character? We are all made of comedy and tragedy. The dichotomy exists in us. It's who we are.
Though this is ostensibly a dark comedy, it seems to also have an edge that speaks to a lot of anger that women are rightfully feeling in 2019. Does the show relate in any way to those contemporary concerns?
Grounds: Of course. I think women have been feeling a lot of anger for a long time, and it's finally reached a critical mass where it's bubbling up in almost every arena. That's really important, and it needs to happen, but it can also be very draining. As the artistic director of a feminist theater company, I was naturally getting pitched a lot of scripts about sexual assault, harassment and violence against women. Those are important issues, and I don't want to shy away from them, but I felt that women also need to laugh right now. We need a laugh, and Megan, and Eva, let us do that. I had an audience member thank me after the show for bringing this narrative to the stage —specifically, a feminist narrative that isn't about being a victim of violence. We need other narratives, she said. I think that's true. We need all the stories we can get.