Regional theater doesn’t feed you like TV. People go for long hours without snacks. Equity actors
get fine dinner breaks, but we on the production side get the occasional Wawa sandwich. So before
I left the hotel in the morning, I ordered a room service broiled chicken sandwich, and stuffed
half into a Ziploc bag in my briefcase. So when I raced from the theater to the rehearsal hall
for a production meeting, to find just a few scraps of Wawa sandwich left for the production staff,
I smugly pulled out my Ziploc and dined, as we sat in a semi-circle, looking at a model of the set,
discussing technical matters.
Then we came to the big business of the evening. After a little reception with supporters,
staff, and patrons of the theater (the refreshments were cider and raw vegetables -- and their
polar opposite, shortbread cookies and mint macaroons, Aaron did a quick introduction, then
without warning, he asked me to speak about what we’re up to with the show.
As I’ve said, he likes throwing me into the water and making me swim. So I talked about
the stuff I’ve written about here, especially about getting rid of the boring glumness
this play so often has and let the wit and fun shine through. Then I got out of the way.
Next, the designers did quick presentations of the set and costumes. Everybody seemed intrigued.
I think they sensed they were watching us crazy kids trying high-wire walking for the first time,
and thought there was actually a chance these wild-eyed brats might make it to the far platform.
And now, the cast read the play. All of it. They read act I (around 55 minutes); then act 2
(I think it ran 39). At the end of Act I, Thom, the Yale genius lighting designer said quietly,
“That’s the swiftest first act I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, Aaron and I were taking notes on
our scripts, recording suggestions for cuts and minor alterations to make the text work better.
The highlight for me was the incredibly hard scene in England, in which Macduff goes to visit
the murdered king’s son Malcolm, asking for his help. Malcolm suspects Macduff may be
in league with Macbeth and tests his integrity by claiming to have every vice on earth.
Macduff is disgusted, and that proves to Malcolm that Macduff is on the level.
They join forces and resolve to return to Scotland and rout Macbeth.
Well, the young fellow playing Malcolm, Scott Kerns, absolutely killed. He had an effortless
bad-boy quality, hitting perfectly on all the sex stuff, and letting the humor shine through
with absolutely no effort. And he was playing opposite Macduff, Cody Nickell, another handsome
actor whose instinct for catching the essence of a scene seems flawless.
So that awful scene, the one that everybody regards as the second act’s big problem, was an explosion
of sunlight in the blackest play in the world.
At the end, the visitors applauded and left, a little dizzy, I think. Aaron got up and addressed the cast.
This was one of the most powerful impromptu talks I’ve ever heard. I was suddenly aware of the understated
richness and strength of Aaron’s voice. The gist of the talk was: This is an American production.
No “Shakespearean” accents. Not a syllable can afford to be lost. The actors should seek clarity
above all. They should realize that the world of the play is a dangerous one, in which being misunderstood
might mean getting killed, and make sure that what they say to their fellow characters cannot
be misinterpreted. In the theater clarity is only a matter of the life or death of the audience’s
attention; in the story of “Macbeth” it’s literally a matter of life and death.
I will remember from today how much I became aware of the power of voices. The voices of the Sisters,
both as actors, and ghastly, like something from beyond the grave. Ian and Banquo’s voices,
soldiers responding to a threat from hell. Scott and Cody talking sex sexily in the Malcolm scene.
The piping voices of the children, Fleance and the Duffling (as we’re calling Macduff’s son), piercing
the air with such pure sounds. And Aaron’s voice, rich and powerful, the captain of the ship.
Completed 2:30 a.m., December 13, 2007. I’d like to write more. But I need my sleep.