The recent collaboration between the CSU Long Beach Theatre Arts Department and Four Clowns, “Ubu the Sh*t,” by Alfred Jerry and adapted and directed by Jeremy Aluma, truly earns its subtitle, “Macbeth on Meth.” The show is nightmarish, disturbing, offensive, and most of all, outrageously funny.
Loosely following the plot of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” “Ubu the Sh*t” is centered around the ambitious and sex-crazed Pa Ubu and his wife, Ma Ubu, as they plot to murder the king and crown Pa Ubu “Emperor of the Universe and King of the World.” The show expands beyond Macbeth’s Scotland into the entire globe, which is highlighted by an eclectic range of exaggerated dialects and mocking of various cultures.
The show is performed in a clowning style, with a lot of choreography, intricate comedic bits, traditional conventions of clowning and many allusions to pop culture. Bougrelas (Tyler Bremer), the equivalent of Malcolm, the king’s son in “Macbeth,” emphasized his mourning over a lost loved one by mouthing the words to A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” Audience participation is encouraged multiple times, such as when a spectator was pulled up to execute one of Pa Ubu’s rebellious subjects in a “Hunger Games” style. Darth Vader may or may not have present at the battle for the crown. From the very opening, which features a rendition of “O Fortuna” accompanied by the cast with virtually every curse word known to man, one knows that this is not a typical play.
Another unique feature of the show is that Pa and Ma Ubu, the two leads, are played by multiple actors. It gives the characters an archetypal power and also allows the audience to see these characters played with different voices, mannerisms, and styles while still having consistent character traits. This is successfully executed largely due to Amanda Cleveland-Davey’s costume and mask design, which allows the audience to easily distinguish between characters. It also provides a whole slew of jokes in a show because part of Pa Ubu’s costume is a long, dangling green penis, which both reveals his character as a perverse slob and allows for many comedic bits.
The cast works together extremely well as an ensemble and the company was extremely well balanced, with not a weak link on stage. Dancing, singing, acrobatics, and fight choreography were executed flawlessly by the impressively versatile performers.
Benji Kaufman sound design added a lot of comedy to certain moments with a lot of contemporary references. The sound itself was crisp and blended well into the show, save for a few early or missed cues. Donny Jackson’s lighting design really adds to the nightmarish tone of some of the sequences, particularly early in the performance. While much of the show is humorous, the design elements combined with Siri Tveter’s dance choreography made the assassination of the king a very daunting, powerful reflection on the nature of power and political upheaval.
While the show may go a little long and degenerate a little into an excessive number of pop culture jokes, “Ubu the Sh*t” is an incredibly unique theatrical experience that both entertains and awes. While not for the faint of heart or those with delicate sensibilities, one can learn a lot about alternative modes of theatre and discover the fun in contemporary reflection upon an old story we are all too familiar with.
- Ryan David McRee