You know August is almost over in Halifax when you begin to see posters for the Fringe Festival pop up.
This year’s crop of funky and fun plays includes Unsex’d, a play about two Elizabethan actors looking to snag the role of a lifetime: Lady Macbeth in the Bard’s new play. The press materials call it “one part All About Eve, one part Macbeth and all parts E! True Hollywood Story."
But you’ll have to see it for yourself to see if that’s an accurate statement.
The play is directed by Richie Wilcox, a name that many in Halifax’s theatre scene will recognize. Wilcox no longer resides in the city, but he does return here as often as he can, and the Fringe is a great reason for him to come east. Down East had a brief chat with the director to talk about the production.
My friend Jay Whitehead wrote the script with his acting school co-hort Daniel Judes a few years back. The two of them were gay best buds at the time, going out to clubs and seeing young guys, including themselves, fight for the affection of others. This was back when Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton were huge. The whole culture around them was saturated with beautiful people, but where was the substance?
Jay and Daniel decided to tackle the question of what wins in the end: beauty or talent? They do it in a campy, comedic way by having two boy-players in Shakespearean times catfight (I’m talking RuPaul Untucked catfights!) over the role of Lady MacBeth.
What is it like to you to return to a home audience?
I love coming to Nova Scotia for theatre every summer. I have moved away numerous times, but I’m always back in the summertime. The cold ocean water calls to this Cape Breton boy. I’m really happy to come back to Halifax particularly because of the strong and supportive queer community. I was around for Out East and the Big Gay Prom, and it was just such a fantastic time. I’m happy to bring a big queer element to the Atlantic Fringe and be surrounded by those same loving, amazing people again.
It’s interesting to see an entire play about how men played women in theatre for such a long time. It’s often only thought of as an anecdote in theatrical history. How does an entire play on the subject thresh this out?
The title, Unsex’d, comes from a quote of Lady MacBeth’s that, I’m paraphrasing here, basically has Lady MacBeth saying she wants to be a man. She wants her gender to be taken away so she can be strong and kill like a man. This play, which for the most part takes place in the dressing room of the leading boy-player, definitely examines the blurred lines between gender and sexuality back then. These actors weren’t necessarily gay — they were prostitutes! They were whoring around all the time, as women and/or men, with their adoring fans. They were the drag-queen celebrities of the day.
What should people expect from the show?