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Oh, murder most foul, to kill one's king and usurp his throne! In Shakespeare's Macbeth, goaded by his ambitious wife, Macbeth assassinates Duncan, the king, and seizes the kingdom. What constitutes a kingdom, however, varies depending on the time and place. In America, a business bestows kingship. Scotland, Pa., depicts a fast-food "hostile corporate takeover."

Lord and Lady Macbeth's rise and fall from power perfectly fits the 1975 setting in the seedy little backwater berg of the movie's title. Joe "Mac" and Pat McBeth (James LeGros and Maura Tierney, respectively) work as a grill man and waitress in Duncan's, a run-down hamburger joint. Pat constantly harangues Mac about moving up in the world. Translation: kill owner Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) and take over his business.

Any rendering of Macbeth must include the witches and their pesky prophecy. Here, three hippies living in the town's amusement park provide Mac with a fast food forecast. When Duncan tells Mac and Pat about opening a food pick-up window for customers in cars, Mac suddenly remembers the hippies' revelation. Almost trance like, Mac suggests an intercom system permitting customers to first order the food, ready when they reach the window. Delighted, Duncan names Mac ... only assistant manager!

Bad management decision. Mac and Pat make their move. Duncan "falls" head-first into the deep-fat french-fry cooker. Buying the joint from Duncan's teen-age sons, the murderous couple create a Scotland, Pa., fast-food empire. A huge red neon sign "McBeth's" sits atop the transformed building, all glass and plastic with an efficient stainless steel kitchen, an inside counter and tables and, of course, the drive-thru. The menu's mainstay -- every "McBurger" imaginable. Awash in money, Mac and Pat live like a king and queen.

But not for long. Like their counterparts, Mac and Pat descend into guilt and madness. Lady Macbeth frantically washes non-existent blood from her hands; Pat obsessively medicates a long-healed burn caused when boiling oil from the fatal vat splashed on her hand.

Macbeth kills his best friend Banquo to prevent the latter from talking about Macbeth's crime; Mac snuffs out friend Banco (Kevin Corrigan) for the same reason. During the restaurant's grand opening celebration, as during the banquet in the play, Banco's ghost appears only to Mac and asks, "Why did you kill me?" Like Macbeth, Mac seemingly rants at nothing and must contend with his own McDuff -- Scotland Police Lieutenant Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken), a confirmed vegetarian.

The movie recreates the Seventies' tacky taste in clothing, haircuts and home decorating. The soundtrack features Seventies bands and songs, each appropriate to the action.

The Bard's plays, which recount humankind's eternal ambition, greed, revenge, love, loyalty, and courage, translate to any time and place. Scotland, Pa., again proves Shakespeare's limitless versatility.

Lynn I. Miller

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