Megan Gogerty knows there’s power in comedy — that what is dressed up as a bit of tomfoolery can in fact be quite conscious, insightful or even subversive. Of course, she ought to know this: She teaches the stuff. But one doesn’t expect her to state it so boldly, to give the secret away, out loud in the early stages of her new piece, Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan.
She’s explaining why she wanted to be a comedian, why she braved the humiliation and drudgery of open-mic nights to perfect her craft, and she explains how stand-up comedy is a vehicle for the things she wants to say but doesn’t have an outlet for. She starts to get successful with her silly Star Trek jokes, but “I hide razor blades in the candy apples,” she admits. “You can smuggle all sorts of ideas inside a joke. If you do it right.”
Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan
Riverside Theatre — through March 12
Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan is chock full of jokes. Jokes about sexism, jokes about Shakespeare, jokes about joking. Hiding behind the innocent mask of “comic monologist,” however, Gogerty is armed to the teeth, hurtling razor blades of sharp insight at a variety of targets: the patriarchy, the entertainment industry and the ingrained hypocrisy that leads us to treat an ambitious man as a strong, crusading hero and an ambitious women as cruel, conniving and shrill.
The main plot of the piece is autobiographical, describing her own rise from nervous nightclub comic in Chicago to “the biggest fish in my own backyard.” At this point, after a conversation about “type” with an actor friend, she meets an unlikely ally in an old bookstore: the much maligned Lady Macbeth. In addition to the yuks she earns from embodying the chipper stand-up comic analyzing one of the bloodiest tragedies in the history of literature, Gogerty has a lot to say about what we can learn from Lady Macbeth, who, despite her notoriety for being sexy, smart, dangerous, viciously ambitious and cunningly crazy, spends much of the play neglected, shut out and pushed to the side.
Gogerty explores misogyny in modern society from a variety of angles — from the way little girls are feminized in a very objectifying way, to the boys’ club that is stand-up comedy, to the way ambitious women are treated with disdain and distrust (or in her words, “punished for wanting things”).
This succeeds because, though this is a one-women show, there are many different characters, and Gogerty is able to portray them all with specificity and humor. A little bit of body language and object work creates a best friend in an ice cream shop, a leering club promoter, a small-town theatre producer, a presidential candidate or Lady M herself.
It’s when she’s delving into the play Macbeth that Gogerty’s versatility becomes clear, and it really serves to underline the themes of the piece: when she’s doing the famous “Out, damned spot” speech, she’s not lampooning it, exploiting it or overselling it: she’s plainly and simply doing it. Just washing her hands and blurting her secrets into the dark. We’re no longer at Riverside, but are instead visiting Inverness, just for a moment, to get a real look at this twisted, paranoid and defeated woman. She’s about to step out a moment later and make fun of it, critique it, become a comedian and an academic — but for this moment, she’s just an actor, committed to her role. It’s this commitment that makes the show work.
Between Gogerty’s acting and Saffron Henke’s direction, this show has a steady flow that allows it to pump the brakes on the silliness and suddenly show us stark moments of vulnerability — poke us with the razor blade right after a healthy bite of the apple, if you will. Gogerty is uniquely skilled to mine this type of performance for gems of insight, and her acting is frequently quite honest, raw and gutsy, paradoxically undercutting the clever writing while at the same time proving its points.
All in all, Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan excels at doing what artists are charged with, according to that other famous Shakespeare play: holding up the mirror to the world and showing good and evil their own image.
Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan is playing at Riverside through March 12, with shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12-30. Gogerty is also currently running an Indiegogo campaign to bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I highly recommend you check this play out. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you think — and it might even scare you a bit.