Had a room service asparagus and mushroom eggwhite omelette to set me up for the day’s work, then met a
reporter in Aaron’s office and did a short interview. They wanted a photo, so I suggested using the Hell
Gates. While the photographer hung a backdrop, Aaron, Jeremy (the assistant director) and I went through
script questions, places where we felt further small cuts were necessary, and restorations of bits we’d
unnecessarily cut. The reading the previous night had told us a lot.
I ran over (through the rain) to the scene shop (just across the parking lot), posed in the sharp-looking
shirt Emily Jillette bought me, and came back to finish the first act cuts with Aaron. It brings me joy
to be able to argue with such mutual respect over the text of the play. I’m pretty opinionated and
so is Aaron, but what we have in common is the belief that EVERY WORD should be comprehensible, or
at least as comprehensible as it was to Shake’s audience (some of the text, as I think I’ve said before,
just sounds like a guy going nuts, because it’s a guy going nuts.
At one point, Jeremy pointed out that the Arden Shakespeare put a question mark after “We fail…” in this
Mac: If we should fail?
Lady: We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we’ll not fail.
Aaron was about to accept this when I stopped them. I believe that both grammatically and dramatically;
the right punctuation is a period.
Mac: If we should fail?
Lady: We fail. But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we’ll not fail.
To me, the “But” doesn’t make sense after a question, unless you hear that question in a pissily sarcastic tone.
But to me, this exchange fits Lady Macbeth’s gutsy attitude. She doesn’t dismiss the idea of failure;
she knows the bottom line. But she has what seems such a perfect plan that it won’t fail, as long
as Mac keeps his nerve.
Aaron mused over this for quite a while; he asked me to deliver the line; he read it himself; then
finally he said, “All right, I embrace that cut.” That’s his phrase when he’s persuaded and it’s
characteristic of him to take his collaborators so seriously that he will make a complete reversal
and run full speed ahead with the new idea.
At one p.m. I descended to the basement, to the women’s dressing room, to meet Kate Eastwood Norris
and Matt Holzclaw, and Angie, the assistant stage manager to work on Lady Macbeth’s bloody nightmare:
Out, out damn spot.
Now, Matt and I had devised a basic method and had an overall plan, but now we had to make it work on
a real actress in a gorgeous, designed nightgown. We talked with Kate for a while about what she wanted
to do with the speech, then realized Kate needed to know what our effect was like before she could start
making artistic decisions. So – as a test – we put the two layers of fabric just like the dress
(inner, satin; outer sheer gauzy stuff) on Kate’s leg and tried the effect. It was awful. Faint,
weak bloodstains. Nothing of the horrible beauty we wanted.
To avoid bloodying Kate unnecessarily (let me say from experience, the fun of the first blood hit palls
after about fifteen minutes when you start feeling just cold and sticky), we let the shower wall
in the dressing room stand in for Kate’s body. We tried various dress fabrics and gimmicks
and finally found one combination that seemed perfect. But it involved only one layer of gown,
and this meant an entire re-design to the garment. So we sent word upstairs to Devon Painter,
the costume designer (the wild Irish lass with the grand mop of red hair).
We showed her the problem. Did she say, “Well, find a way to make it work, you so-called magicians!
My design is too beautiful to alter, and, besides, that’s too much trouble for me…”?
By now you know the answer: she said, “Well, if we have to trash the dress anyway, let’s try it full out.
Rig the real dress and let’s see if we can get her really bloody.” We tried. We tried our best.
It didn’t work. Devon got out her scissors and sliced the exquisite outer layer off the gown.
We tried it again. It was perfect.
I hate this necessary coyness, but I’ll be a little indirect again now.
We now had another kind of blood hit we wanted to look at for later in the sequence. As male magicians,
we’d never had the luxury of breasts on our own persons. We found a use, and Kate was delighted.
Finally we had one more major blood hit to experiment with. Now picture Kate, tall, slim, blond, athletic,
a cross between Aphrodite and a tennis pro. She’s been in underwear and a sticky blood-soaked dress
for more than two hours. But, ever willing, she gave us the go-ahead. We did the final, awful hit.
Her entire comment: “This is way cool.” Then we sent her for a welcome shower. I took photos,
which I later showed to Aaron, who said, “My god.” We thought that was a money review.
Matt and I then went into town and shared a sushi platter for dinner, then drove to the rehearsal studio.
While Matt worked on combat murders, I descended to the basement with Assistant Director Jeremy
to meet with our Weird Sisters.
Our goal: to devise our presentation of the scene that had first engaged me as a kid: the “Double, double,
toil and trouble,” cauldron incantation and apparitions. To me, the desired effect is a poetic plunge
into the blackest maw of Hell.
This scene often fails, because it’s made “realistic.” Actors want to make these characters like real,
dimensional people, who go home from their Witches’ Sabbath to wash the dishes. I think the Weird Sisters
are good, old-fashioned monsters.
Cleo, Dan, and Eric are with me. Their goal, like mine, is to rip the roof off the theater with this scene.
And so we began. First we sat around a table and they read. We began with the “double double” refrain.
Dan has a strong musical background and suggested ways of accenting syllables to avoid the incantation sounding
like a nursery rhyme.
Now we moved on to the ingredients. Shakespeare has something in this to pretty much offend and horrify
anybody (from “liver of blaspheming Jew” to “finger of birth-strangled babe”). And the ingredients
come rapidly, one after the other. Every three syllables something else of unspeakable vileness
drops into the pot.
As traditionally published, each Sister takes a turn and throws in many ingredients. But that’s
slow going if we’re talking about say, a shark’s throat and entrails, followed by a flagon of baboon blood.
Those things take time to handle. We solved this by redistributing the lines so that each Sister had
only one ingredient at a time and we rocketed from one to the next, overlapping, cascading.
Now we were ready to stage the scene. I pushed tables back against the walls. Cleo found us a big trash
barrel to use for the cauldron. And we went at it. Every repetition found more rich and practical action
to fit the words. Cleo became the custodian of anything like butcher material: guts, organs, innards.
Eric became the Sister who not only provided dainty ingredients like blind-worm’s stings, but punctuated
the proceedings with cool infusions of blood. Dan stirred the pot and plucked sick stuff off of little bags
tied to his stir-stick.
I could feel the energy coming off these three powerful actors like a sonic boom. Every run got creepier,
and the more we ran it, the more ideas the guys got to give it layers and layers of texture. On, perhaps,
the tenth run, the Sisters instinctively began to share. Eric and Dan plucked severed noses and lips
and fingers off of Cleo. Cleo shared his bucket of guts with Eric. In short, they started to act
When Cleo, Dan, and Eric were pretty much exhausted, they sat down at the table and made a list of
the props they wanted for ingredients. Very specific descriptions, sizes and shapes that they thought
they could handle. We had a final discussion – led by Eric -- of how, next time, we might try pulling
back just a bit in energy to allow everything to get just that much more deeply real (no dishes to wash,
but we should be able to smell the rotting flesh). We speculated on how these long-undead creatures had
found one another and bonded, and how many centuries that took.
After watching some amazing combat rehearsal, I drove home via a 24-hour diner and had a chicken
salad sandwich I regretted about 4:30 in the morning.