It’s really great to be in love, as I am with our “Macbeth” and everybody involved. Love makes you
do crazy things, and doing crazy things feels great.
So last night, after my show, at 11:59 p.m. I boarded a red-eye from Vegas to Newark, to see a 10 a.m.
performance of “Macbeth” for an audience of high school students bussed in from around New Jersey.
I’d hoped to be able to sleep, and wrapped my scarf around my head as a sleep mask, but some passenger
in Row 21 needed a lot of attention, and rang for the flight attendant every eight or nine minutes.
So sleep was a sort of punctuated coma. No matter. What need does a man in love have for sleep?
I was met in Newark by the ever-gracious Andrew Martini. He took me to breakfast (the In-Between Café,
eggs Benedict) then we went to the theater where I showered and welcomed a toothbrush to my mouth.
I’m proud our “Macbeth” is the one that will introduce so many students to the play, but I don’t envy
the actors, trying to work at top energy at dawn for a bunch of gum-chewing, text-messaging horny teenagers.
The show started a few minutes late (we were waiting for a busload of kids). The audience was with the
show all the way; you could hear it in their reactions. Screams at their first meeting with the Sisters.
Gasps at the magic. Groans and screams at the violence. Loud approval at anything sexual. Enthusiasm when
Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth beat up on one another, abusive spouse style. And huge, huge, laughs at the drunken,
dirty, crazy, foul-mouthed Porter’s. So I was surprised when, during the Porter scene, about eight kids
in one row suddenly got up and left. Had we touched a nerve? Nah, as it turned out, out a flu-infected
young woman in their midst had suddenly started vomiting.
The show was vibrant, and the actors were happy, but afterwards, in private, with their adrenalin valves
shut off, they looked kind of ghostly. Actors are night-people and they’d just done their fourth-in-a-row
10 a.m. show for juveniles. I heard many mutterings about naps, and as I walked through the theater,
I noticed actors curled up on the floor among the rows of seats. Corners were littered with cough-drop
Then I met up with Aaron. He looked a bit drained, too, after a tough day of non-Macbeth tasks.
Aaron is juggling an entire season of plays, in production for “Glass Menagerie,” casting future
productions, negotiating deals with actors and publishers, buying a house, and planning a wedding.
He had a bit of a cold, as well.
But when I expressed sympathy, Aaron grinned and said, “All good!” This partly means, “The worst
day in the theater is better than the best day waiting tables.” But it also reflects his deepest
attitude: He knows how to appreciate how great life is, and this is one of the radiant qualities
that makes him a great director.
There’s another phrase he often uses (he credits this to his stunning and astute fiancée, Erin): “All
the things!” When the task facing the group is overwhelming, Aaron smiles and shrugs and says,
“It’s just all the things….” In other words: “I know there is a seemingly never-ending gusher
of problems to solve. We’ll get to them one by one and it will be worth it.”
Aaron took me to lunch at a nearby Mexican joint. Very, very spicy fish. We discussed some notes
I’d taken at the show and agreed on virtually everything – except my theory that Macduff’s son is
leading his mother to a logical contradiction in a rather methodical, Socratic fashion. We divided
the notes into: things to be addressed this afternoon; notes to be given later from Aaron to actors
in private; and changes we will wait to make until we move to Washington at the end of next week.
We came back to the theater and met with Kate Olden, the stage manager, to plan the afternoon’s rehearsal.
I need to tell you about Kate Olden. Kate is a petite, lovely, dark-haired alabaster-complexioned woman
in her twenties. When she’s working she seems to become pure mind, albeit a mind with a fine, dry sense
During our rehearsals, Kate prioritizes our to-do list and turns it into a schedule that navigates
the rules of Actors’ Equity. Then she drives the proceedings with a strategic efficiency that would
In performance, Kate “calls” the show. That means she cues every technical moment of the show according
to a precise “score.” She also deals with technical glitches on the fly and watches to make sure no
sloppiness creeps in.
And after each show, Kate writes a detailed email report that recounts how every aspect of the performance
went technically, artistically, and from the point of view of audience response. She keeps, essentially,
a diary of every performance. I read her reports every day and they are a huge help in solving problems.
Right before this rehearsal, I had conceived a crackbrained notion of having the real dagger Macbeth’s
holding while he’s hallucinating the air-drawn one turn bloody like the one in his vision, then suddenly
become clean again. And I had an idea how to do it, using what magicians call the “paddle move.”
I got really excited and practiced it to show to Ian while I was waiting for the rehearsal to start.
Then the fact hit me: a “paddle move” doesn’t work when you can see it from the rear and Macbeth is
standing directly in front of a mirror.
We began by looking at the ever-challenging Banquo ghost scene: “sleight of hand with people.” The scene
uses about a dozen folks, all of whom have to work as fluidly and cooperatively as a magician’s fingers,
to hide what needs hiding from all the viewing angles in a theater with all-too-good sight lines. We spent
an hour and it got quite good. Of course, once we reach the Folger in D.C., where the stage and audience
are entirely different, we’ll have a lot to re-choreograph.
After this, Aaron paused to present each of the actors with a small bonus (officially designated for meals)
to show appreciation for hazardous duty in early-morning performance for randy teens.
Next we looked at Scene 3, the “All hail” scene. Ian and Aaron have been craving something weird to
happen as the Sister being played by Cleo stalks off without answering Mac’s question. And that brought
us back to Kevin James’s wonderful hand effect that he gave us to use in this show. I guess for those
of you who have not seen the show yet, I shouldn’t say more, except that one Sister now carries a recently
severed hand. Very recently. We also looked at the closing vanish and made sure the sword that stabs
through the vanishing witch sweeps through the air and gleams in the light, to make the trick not just puzzling,
Next we examined the opening gag – an act of violence I can’t tell you about if you haven’t seen it –
and enhanced the visual clarity by means of color. (Code for those in the know: Make the file folder
yellow for contrast; throw in a little more blood).
Finally, we looked at the end of Act I, the aftermath of Banquo’s ghost, where Lady Macbeth is
hit with the realization that her husband is cracking up and turning into a paranoid monster,
and it might be all her fault. This is the very last moment we see Lady Macbeth before she loses
her mind. We’re supporting Kate’s acting with some lights and sound that help convey she’s just
beginning to crack.
Matt and I dealt with some issues of blood color on a blade – we had to choose a shade that would stand
out more against the background. The red nail polish we’d been using on the sword was just too dark.
Big Wayne the carpenter offered us some acrylic red paint and that was perfect. We painted it on the
blade in swirls to suggest movement, almost as one would paint movement lines (“moovles”) in a cartoon.
After rehearsal, Matt and I rendez-voused with Aaron, Andrew, Kate Norris, Cody Nickell, and Joe
Isenberg at The Brothers’ Pizza.
Which reminds me to tell you about Joe (nicknamed Crispy by the cast). Joe plays the Macbeths’
confidential servant. There’s a clear wink of sexuality in his relationship with Lady Macbeth,
and a smirk of cynical understanding as he watches Macbeth decline into terrorism. Then later,
unable to stomach Macbeth’s cruelty, servant Joe turns against Macbeth and tries to warn Lady
Macduff before her assassination.
Joe’s also the Fight Captain, the person in charge of seeing that the fights retain the full
precision of their choreography (in a long run, actors can get sloppy – and get hurt); and Joe
inspects and maintains the weapons. He told us a hair-raising story of a metal sword that broke
from its handle in mid-fight, and flew into and audience. Joe recalled it all happening in slow
motion, with Joe in pursuit of the renegade blade, as it landed by the wing-tipped shoes of a man
in a Mr. Rogers sweater. The man beamed. “That’s what I love about the live theater,” he said.
Joe ‘s mind fully returned to his body about twenty minutes later.
After finishing the entire mound of French fries on my plate, we all walked back to the theater.
Kate linked her arm in mine and asked for any inspiration for deepening her work I might be able
to offer. I told her I’d think on it.
I threw my briefcase into Andrew’s car and headed for the airport. At this point I’d been
awake about thirty hours and I was drifting off in mid-sentence as Andrew and I talked.
Since I omitted packing contraband in my luggage, I made it through airport security without incident.
On the flight, I had planned to sleep, but Kate’s question haunted me. And I wrote this:
Macbeth -- left to himself -- deals with fear by reasoning. And his calculations are pretty much dead on.
It’s this that leads him -- on his own -- not to act.
Lady Macbeth deals with fear by battlefield courage. She knows that her husband will think himself --
Hamlet-like -- into inaction. She recognizes a once in a lifetime opportunity being presented by the fates.
So, for the good of the partnership (not, I think, of her individual ambitions) she psychs herself and her
husband into doing the worst thing on earth. A thing that her inner little girl knows will send her to hell.
She apprehends -- with an animal directness -- that she must kill a man who reminds her of her own father
-- for the sake of her marriage. This fills her with the horror -- and the exhilaration -- of mortal combat.
For one day and one night she becomes a soldier who's psyched himself to kill directly, intuitively,
without remorse. She has let herself think this act will be the "be-all and the end-all," and they
will "jump the life to come."
But, all-too-clearly she finds that she's made a very bad mistake. She hasn't made
the right choice for the partnership after all. Her husband is not only not happy -- in
fact he's going off the deep end -- but in a frenzy to secure what he’s wrongly gained,
he's become a paranoid monster who shuts her out and takes pleasure in murdering his innocent best friend.
And beyond that, he's showing signs of real paranoia: Macduff doesn't show up at a party and suddenly
Macbeth regards him with suspicion. "Did you send to him, sir?" Lady Macbeth asks. No, he hasn't sent,
he's just "heard it by the way." This is fullblown paranoia. It needs to be stopped.
But it won't be. In fact, Macbeth is going back to the well of poison that started this whole enterprise,
the Weird Sisters. And they will stoke his imbalance into full-blown classic paranoia (i.e., delusions
of grandeur accompanied by delusions of persecution).
And this will result in a man who was once "filled with the milk of human kindness" being turned into
a monster who can order the slaughter of the utterly innocent wife and family of someone who was once
a friend. That hits Lady Macbeth especially deep: she knows how sweet it was to nurse the babe that
All that blood is on Lady Macbeth's hands. It's Duncan's and Banquo's and all Macduff's little children.
She could just about hold herself together to get by the first monstrous step, killing Duncan.
But now she's unleashed untold slaughter and destroyed what she loved most in her husband: his goodness.