Review: ‘Bitter Lemon’ at Plan-B

Lady Helen Macduff waits in wonderment, isolated in an undefined space. Her silence is broken by the appearance of the loathsome King Macbeth, a specter from her past and the emissary of her condition. And it is here, in limbo—the existential space between heaven and hell—where together they await their destiny.

Macbeth (played to pompous effect by Bobby Cody) is in a state of confusion in the presence of Helen Macduff (played by the powerful Yolanda Stange). His first recognition of her is an emerging memory of the two of them as children, aligned in youthful play turned to romance, and of her bewitching Bitter Lemon cake.

How quickly that sweet memory turned bitter. Macbeth’s death, thus his presence in this ethereal space, came at the hands of Andrew Macduff as an act of revenge for Macbeth’s slaying of Macduff’s beloved wife and three children, Andrew Jr., Alexander and baby Angela, 

Here in limbo, Helen Macduff seizes the moment. A woman murdered alongside her children is not to be toyed with, after all. An enraged Helen Macduff is given her voice in playwright Melissa Leilani Larson’s imaginative epilogue to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Kudos to Jerry Rapier, Plan-B’s artistic director and the director of Bitter Lemon, the final play of Plan-B’s season. His commitment to progressive, intelligent theatre and to the enriched community is truly nothing short of remarkable. 

The scenery (designed by Janice Chan) is tiered, vertical backdrop panels, with a fluidity representative of an undersea scape. Emma Belnap’s lighting design underscores the room’s impermanence, yet illuminates space for the impending confrontation. Current-era costumes (designed by Victoria Bird) further set the mood for the 21st Century adaptation. Cheryl Ann Cluff has again surpassed audience expectations with the sound design of Bitter Lemon.

The characters evolve as the conversation between Finley Macbeth and Helen Macduff turns into a confrontation. While a defiant Macbeth turns to defensiveness, an angry, bitter Helen Macduff summons her rage in a full-out assault on Macbeth, railing against his vile tactics and his self-obsessed schemes for power. 

Helen Macduff seeks reconciliation through forgiveness, while Macbeth defends his violent quest for permanent rule. And in one of her most inspiring and most defiant retorts to his queasy defense of his self-seeking aggrandizement, she claims, “That is just typical of you, and your gender. It reeks of privilege. What can be more selfish than to tire of someone else’s pain? If you are the hero, the leader, you claim to be, you will embrace your sins. Own them, hold them up and say—‘I did this.’” 

And in his one, stunning act of contrition, Finley Macbeth asks Helen Macduff for forgiveness. To which she replies …”That’s the balance, then. You must own your wrongs, and I must forgive them.”

As the audience’s applause faded and we walked out of the theater, I was reminded that political leaders’ self-seeking obsession for power and wealth, irrespective of mass human deprivation is sadly not just a relic of the 16th Century.

  • What: Plan-B Theatre’s Bitter Lemon by Melissa Leilani Larson, Directed by Jerry Rapier
  • When: Bitter Lemon at Plan B runs April 11-28, on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • Where: The Studio Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, SLC
  • Tickets and info:
Linda Hunt
Linda Hunt
Linda Hunt, an artist and arts activist, is the former Executive Director of the Foothill Cultural District, a consortium of Salt Lake City’s arts and culture organizations, including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Natural History Museum of Utah and Hogle Zoo, among others. Prior to returning to her roots in Utah, she was the Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California where, according to her FBI file, she entered the pantheon of trouble-makers. Hunt is currently completing research for her forthcoming book, “Rappers Under the Gun: The U. S. Government’s War on Hip Hop.”

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