PRESS: Reviews and Features

MACBETH - THE COMEDY - The title character is played by a woman (Erika Burke) and the three witches are evil queens (in the Chelsea sense), so famous lines like "Unsex me now!" take on extra resonance. But this is no deep meditation on gender roles (thank goddess). It's a surprisingly enjoyable goof: Macbeth as if rewritten by the staff of The Onion. Director/screenwriter Allison L. LiCalsi toys with Shakespearean conventions to great comic effect, mixing snatches of the original ("Story and additional dialogue by William Shakespeare," say the closing credits) with pop-psych banalities ("I can't believe how this is escalating!"). Duncan, the doomed (and in this version, dumb) king stares dimly when a messenger poetically delivers news from the battlefield; his son has to translate. An assassin identifies himself (per Shakespeare's dramatis personae) as "Murderer Number One"; the intended victim turns to the second killer and says, "Let me guess. You're Murderer Number Two." The funniest running gag is visual; this being Scotland, everyone in the castle is mad for plaid, from boxer shorts, mufflers and flannel pajamas to the "Thank God I'm Scottish" placard on Macbeth's desk.—David Warner Philadelphia Citypaper July 12-18, 2002

"Macbeth - The Comedy" has a spot in the 2002 Phila. International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia Gay News

Sardonic screenwriter-director Allison LiCalsi, who left the toil and trouble of academia to follow her star in the movie business, is ready to debut her first feature film - "Macbeth - The Comedy." Asbury Park Press


"Macbeth - The Comedy" has a spot in the 2002 Phila. International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
By Nora Koch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fri, Jul. 12, 2002

Inquirer Suburban StaffPatrick Murray was 12 when he made his first film, a slapstick account of a family vacation titled Our Trip to Ocean City.

"It was funny. Two thumbs up - but that's a mother's point of view," said Diane Murray, her son's biggest fan. "He's come a long way."

Now, the 37-year-old Camden County native is breaking into independent film as producer of Macbeth - The Comedy, a twisted version of Shakespeare's classic that will be shown at the 2002 Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Patrick Murray's wife, Allison LiCalsi, wrote and directed the film.

Diane Murray, of Glendora, also gives high ratings to her son's latest film, and the indie cinema scene seems to agree. In September, at its premiere at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, Macbeth - The Comedy was chosen by the audience as the best feature.

Eric Moore, an associate programmer for the Philadelphia Film Society, selected Macbeth from a pool of submissions for the Philadelphia festival, which opened yesterday and continues through July 23. He said the film is well-written and funny.

"It was an audacious thing to do, to take Macbeth and turn it into a comedy and cast Macbeth as a woman, and turn a lot of Shakespeare's own language into sexual innuendo and puns," Moore said.

LiCalsi's screenplay also casts the three witches, rechristened "The Weird Sisters," as gay men, and it uses loads of British comedy, Murray's favorite.

"If you look at a tragedy like Macbeth, you see it coming," Murray said. "Shakespeare knew it was coming."

LiCalsi, who grew up in Middletown, Monmouth County, wrote the Monty Python-esque screenplay in one week. Most of the scenes are set in "an authentic Scottish castle (located somewhere in New Jersey)," according to the film bill. The movie was made at various sites in the filmmakers' home state.

"We did it to have fun... and we hoped that other people would have fun, too," Murray said. "If you know Shakespeare, you get some of the 'in' jokes. And if you don't know Shakespeare, it's still funny."

The couple met in graduate school at Rutgers University in New Brunswick - he in political science and she in art history - and are now working on a documentary about people who lived in the same Hoboken home as Frank Sinatra.

Murray, who graduated from Paul VI High School in Haddon Township, has come full circle since his first movie. After graduating from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., he went to California "to find fame and fortune," he said.

"I didn't find it. I didn't like it. And I wanted to come back East."

With his film dreams on hold, Murray returned to Rutgers to pursue his interest in politics. Now he works during the day as a research analyst at Rutgers' Eagleton Institute of Politics. LiCalsi is a part-time art history teacher at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County. They live in Somerset, Somerset County.

The two have started a production company, Tristan Films, named after their 8-year-old border collie. Murray said his childhood hobby had now turned into a vocation - almost a second job:

"We're not to the point where it's paying the rent yet." 

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By Doug Gruse, PGN Associate Editor, © 2002 Philadelphia Gay News

For New Jersey filmmaker Allison L. LiCalsi, rewriting William Shakespeare's classic drama "MacBeth" as a comedy with a female lead was a way for her to showcase her talent.

"We shot this on a really low budget" LiCalsi said in a recent telephone interview. "We did this on a lark. We thought it would be fun, and it would give me something else to show."

According to LiCalsi, the idea to rework the Shakespeare tragedy originally came from her husband, Patrick Murray, who produced the film.

"We were trying to raise money for my other original scripts," LiCalsi said. "We were just getting desperate for something to do that wouldn't cost a lot of money. Patrick came up with the idea to rework Shakespeare."

LiCalsi said she immediately thought of "MacBeth."

"I think about 'MacBeth' a lot," she said. "I know that play very well, and it is one of my favorites."

The rewrite immediately turned to a gender switch for the title role.

"I had two women that are friends of mine that I really wanted to use in big roles," she explained. "I thought, Why can't MacBeth be a woman? That's how it really got started."

LiCalsi's film, "MacBeth - The Comedy" will be screened July 15 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., as part of the eighth Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Because she knew she had a limited time to put the piece together, LiCalsi, who is an adjunct professor at Rutgers University in Somerset, N.J., said she wrote the script in record time.

"I picked up the play every night for a week for two hours, and rewrote the pages," she said. "I handed them to Patrick, and he typed them up."

After envisioning the role of MacBeth being portrayed by actress and friend Erika Burke, LiCalsi decided to add another gender twist to the "Scottish Play."

LiCalsi rewrote the three witches in Shakespeare's version as a group of stereotypical gay men from New York City's Chelsea district. According to LiCalsi, she had some technical advisers who helped her with the parts.

"I have a lot of gay friends whom I consulted heavily," she joked.

In "MacBeth - The Comedy," LiCalsi scripted the supernatural trio, which are usually referred to as witches, as "The Weird Sisters."

"Actually, Shakespeare called them 'The Weird Sisters.' People just call them the witches now," LiCalsi explained. "Weird comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for destiny. Weird for us means something entirely different. Weird meaning destiny has much more meaning."

LiCalsi, who also directed the film, admits casting for the coven was a little difficult.

"When I rewrote the script, I envisioned the weird sisters as Dieter types - from Mike Myers' skit on 'Saturday Night Live.' " she said. "When I auditioned, I got so many interpretations. But none of them were Dieter."

LiCalsi said she opted to let the personalities of the actors drive the characters instead. According to the filmmaker, one of the sisters delivers a performance that would comfortably fit into a production of "Steel Magnolias."

"I almost didn't cast the Southern sister," she said. "My gay friend said: You have to cast this guy."

After shooting began, LiCalsi said she realized the interpretation added a nice balance to the cast.

Although the film was shot with digital cameras, which has disqualified it from being shown at some film festivals, LiCalsi says the movie has been well-received at its two previous screenings.

"We showed it at the New York International Independent Film Festival, and we got the audience award for best feature there," she said. "We also showed it at a festival in York, England, in February."

LiCalsi is optimistic from the response she has received so far. In fact, she believes the film, which was produced on an almost non-existent budget, may have already helped propel her budding career.

"I just found out one of my scripts got into the final round for the Sundance Film Festival lab," she said. "When I sent the application in, I thought there was not a shot. They get thousands of applications, and half the people they accept are actually solicited scripts from production companies."

The filmmaker said she wonders if her work on "MacBeth - The Comedy" might have given her a slight advantage.

"Maybe they saw that I am serious, and I have actually done something," she said. "Now I'm only 99 percent a nobody."

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Sardonic screenwriter-director Allison LiCalsi, who left the toil and trouble of academia to follow her star in the movie business, is ready to debut her first feature film - "Macbeth - The Comedy."
By Shannon Mullen, Asbury Park Press, Sunday, September 2, 2001

Editor's note: In Allison LiCalsi's satirical send-up of Shakespeare's Scottish play, the Macbeths are lesbian lovers, the three witches are flamboyantly gay men and the noblemen are a bunch of wise-cracking misfits. "Macbeth: The Comedy,'' which will get a prime-time screening Sept. 10 at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in New York City, is the first full-length feature by the 34-year-old former Middletown resident, who now resides in Somerset with her husband, Patrick Murray. LiCalsi's truly twisted tale "takes us back to a time when men were not necessarily men and ruthless tyrants could also be strict vegetarians,'' according to the film's synopsis. LiCalsi's own story is one of gradual self-discovery and a sudden change of course. Unhappily on track to become a college art history professor, she quit academia at her husband's urging seven years ago to pursue her real dream as a screenwriter and filmmaker.

: Library of Bayshore Junior High School, Middletown, 1980.
YOUNG GIRL carries a stack of English biographies to the circulation desk. Enter Allison LiCalsi, the NARRATOR.
NARRATOR: I try to block out junior high, actually, but growing up, I was into all things British. I listened to the Beatles exclusively and I loved reading biographies of people like Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth I, Florence Nightengale. At the time the only female role models I could find tended to be British. In the summer of '81, I watched Charles and Diana's wedding on TV. It was the earliest I had ever gotten up in my entire life.

SCENE 2: Student Center, Rutgers University, 1987.
ALLISON and FRIEND emerge from showing of the Woody Allen film, "Manhattan.''
FRIEND: So, your first Woody Allen movie. What'd you think?
ALLISON: It blew me away. It was so real. While I was watching it I was thinking, "This is how movies ought to be.''

SCENE 3: Off-campus apartment, New Brunswick, around the same time.
ALLISON remonstrates with her ROOMMATE, who has just returned from seeing another Arnold Schwartzenegger movie.
ALLISON: How could you spend money to see something like that?
ROOMMATE: Well, you couldn't do any better. Do you know how hard it is to write a script like that?
ALLISON: You give me two hours and a bottle of vodka and I could give you a better script.
ALLISON faces the audience as the NARRATOR again.
NARRATOR: The funny thing is, I really don't drink. My point wasn't necessarily that the alcohol would enhance the writing, but that even dead-drunk I could have done better.

SCENE 4: New Brunswick area movie theater, 1989.
ALLISON and future husband PATRICK emerge from showing of Woody Allen's "Crimes & Misdemeanors.'' Neither knows it yet, but this is their first date.
PATRICK: Was that Mussolini scene great?
ALLISON: Oh my God. What about that line, "What is comedy? Comedy is tragedy plus time"? How funny was that?

SCENE 5: Apartment in Somerset, spring 1994.
ALLISON, looking weary and agitated, vents her frustrations with her Ph.D. dissertation on English art critic Roger Fry and with her ongoing panic attacks. PATRICK interrupts her.
PATRICK: I think what's really wrong is that you're not doing what you really want to do in life. If you could do anything you wanted, anything in the world, what would you do?
ALLISON: OK, you know what I would do? I would write and direct films like Woody Allen.
PATRICK: Then do it.
ALLISON faces audience as NARRATOR.
NARRATOR: When he said that I thought, "This is silly,'' because it seemed like an impossible thing. I was 27 at that point and I thought it was too late to change my mind about what I was going to do. I thought I was stuck with just a couple of options. I think very few people ever ask themselves that question: If they could do anything, what would you do? I don't think the average person working in an office would choose
to be there over any other place in the world. It reminds me of a scene from ""East Enders,'' the BBC TV series, where these two women are doing wash at a Laundromat, talking about how their lives have turned out, and one of them says, "I think to myself, Am I really sitting here watching laundry spin around?''

SCENE 6: King's College archives, Cambridge University, England, summer 1994.
The ARCHIVIST hands ALLISON a pile of papers.
ALLISON: You know, I really don't want to do this. I'm thinking of becoming a screenwriter instead.
ARCHIVIST: Really? Do you have a script in mind?
ALLISON: I have an idea.
ARCHIVIST: Oh, make films. Don't do this. I'd love to read your script when it's finished.

SCENE 7: Allison's and Patrick's Somerset apartment, present day.
ALLISON and PATRICK are being interviewed by a REPORTER.
REPORTER: You said an agent in London really liked your first script, then he dropped you flat when the BBC said it wasn't interested. How do you deal with that kind of rejection?
ALLISON: Originally, I would go berserk when I got rejected. Now I don't really care. Actually, yoga has helped me a lot. I've been doing it for a few years now and it's made a big difference. I started to slowly notice, little by little, that I was dealing with things better than I used to.
PATRICK: She used to bristle when someone would make comments about one of her scripts.
ALLISON: Like I wanted to kill the person. Now, after doing yoga, it's like, OK, if it
happens, it happens. I don't get caught up in the what-ifs like I used to. In yoga you learn
that it's actually the process that's important.

Rutgers Gardens, New Brunswick, January 2001.
Two feet of new fallen snow cover the grounds. It is bitterly cold and windy as a small film crew and a group of actors trudges through the woods. It is the first of a frenetic 11 days of filming for "Macbeth:
The Comedy.'' At the end of the shoot, the cinematographer nearly passes out from exposure. ALLISON, the director, loses sensation in her toes. She addresses the audience as the NARRATOR.
NARRATOR: That was a horrible day. We were doing the Birnam Wood scene. Our generator broke. I thought I was going to have to get my toes amputated. We were all thinking about the "Macbeth" curse. You know, how you're not supposed to say the name when you're in a theater, or bad things will happen. Historically, I guess, bad things have happened during productions of "Macbeth, " like people getting hit and killed by sandbags and that sort of thing. You're suppose to call it the "Scottish play'' when you're in the theater. We would refer to it sometimes as the "Scottish film.''
Enter TED DeCHATELET, who plays Macduff in the film.
TED: When we broke for lunch that first day, people were like "Uh-oh, is this really going to work?'' But once we got going, it was fantastic. It's rare when you feel really good about a project and can get behind
it and feel excited about it. This was definitely a cut above the other independent films and student films I've done. Allison was great. She's very anti-Hollywood. She'd rather not see the film get made than to compromise and have it made poorly.

SCENE 9: Allison's apartment, present day.
ALLISON at the kitchen table, being interviewed by a REPORTER.
REPORTER: How big a deal is this film festival?
ALLISON: Well, it's not Sundance, but it is New York, so it's still possible to get people in the business there. If we sell out the 280 seats in advance, we get a second screening, so we're trying really hard to do that.
REPORTER: The best thing that could happen, I guess, is that the right person sees the film and wants to distribute it and you become a star. What's the worst that could happen?
ALLISON: The worst that could happen is that nothing happens. Actually, there is no worst thing that could happen, because when I'm 87 years old I'll still be able to watch this film and laugh. The way I see it, no matter what, there will at least be one day where people can buy popcorn and see my movie on a big screen.

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