My “Macbeth” updates are going to be different for the next couple weeks. Less like carefully-turned essays,
more like news bulletins. I’m working long days and nights.
Got up at 5:30 a.m. to catch an 8:30 flight from Vegas to Newark. They were out of first class seats
by the time we booked. Fine flight, though. I read the New York Times and Washington Post on my Kindle
(the Amazon reading gadget); worked at memorizing the gist of all the scenes from “Macbeth” in numerical
order; polished my short piece for the “Macbeth” program. The Continental “coach” idea of food was cold
cereal and milk. I was glad I’d brought some of my turkey-apple sausage from home.
The plane arrived half an hour early at the airport and I was met by Andrew Martini, the tech director,
in my rental car, a Ford “Escape” hybrid. A funny choice for a host of “PTBS.” First time I’ve driven one
of those. It seems like a car.
After a quick snack of wild mushroom soup, grilled asparagus, and rare tuna, we went straight
to the rehearsal studio in a local arts center. There were lots of things going on in parallel.
In one room, an assistant director working with the young kids in the show. In a basement conference
room, Aaron Posner, my co-director, working with Kate (Lady Macbeth) and Ian (Macbeth). Matt Holzclaw,
magic guy, is floating between various rehearsals. Then in a big gym/all purpose room, Dale Girard,
the fight guy, was working with about a dozen of the men, putting them through some test exercises
to see who has what aptitude for stage fighting.
Aaron brought everybody into a circle for introductions, then asked if I had anything to say.
He does this all the time. He throws you into the water to see if you feel like swimming. I just
told everybody I was a little too blitzed to say anything lucid, but that they all looked beautiful.
And they do. This is a terrific looking cast. Great-looking, fit, distinctive. They all liked the
Dale is a madman. Aaron has made it clear that this show won’t be having polite dueling. We want the
fights gut-wrenching. Dale is the man for us. He thinks like a magician. I watched as he explained
the idea of fluid movements interrupted by explosions of impact. Afterwards he raved about our cast:
apparently many of them have substantial martial arts training and are great at kick moves.
Then Dale ran by me an idea he has for breaking Young Siward’s arm in the penultimate fight of the play.
Then he talked about making it possible for a Murderer to lift Macduff’s kid by the scruff of his neck
to stab him. Gotta love a guy who thinks like this.
Then I stopped in to watch Aaron work with Kate. They were sitting at a plastic conference table and going,
line by line, over the scene where she reads Macbeth’s letter, worries about her husband’s gentle nature,
and psychs herself up for the ride by calling on elemental spirits to “unsex” her. Aaron invited me
to sit down, watch Kate work and comment. Aaron may be the least tight-assed person I’ve ever met.
He’s so welcoming with everything, so frank, so positive, one just can’t resist.
Now Kate, tall, slim, athletic, gorgeous, is just a ball of energy and intelligence. She’s game for anything.
She seems to have nothing even slightly resembling a hangup. She tells me she’s read my online stories
about the show. She exclaims, “Yeah, man!” So suddenly I’m directing an actress. I’m saying,
“What is pissing you off about your husband is also what you love him for. You love that he’s
this tough soldier so ethical and so full of ‘the milk of human kindness.’ But you know it’s
going to get in the way.”
So Kate immediately does exactly that. And it’s wonderful. Then Aaron leaves the room and says,
“You go ahead. I want to go up and see what’s happening with the fights.”
So now I’m directing Kate and she’s brilliant and fearless and I ask her to play the good and sweet side
of everything, to love her husband for his failings. I ask her to call up the spirits, not to ally
herself with familiar demons, but to shake off her human instincts to be soft and gentle. And she does this,
instantly, instinctively, intelligently, and it sends chills up my spine.
Aaron returns and likes what Kate and I have done, and sends me up to watch the fighting. Matt Holtzclaw
is up there, just thrilled with what Dale is doing, with how inventive he is. I watch for a while, then
the actors go on break.
When we come back, Aaron tells me, I should talk the Sisters through their roles with Matt.
So I just try to tell them everything. I tell them about the Palermo crypts. I tell them about
James I’s witchcraft beliefs (James didn’t think witches did anything physical; they just made shows
that influenced people to screw themselves up.) I show them pix of Frank’s masks. They are psyched.
When we were all done, I went downstairs to the rehearsal room. Now Aaron was working with Kate (Lady)
and Ian (Mac). We got into the scene “If it were done…screw your courage to the sticking place.” I’m
encouraging all the actors to go places I’ve never seen this show taken. In particular, I’m asking them
to look for warm and funny motives where gloomy and dark are the standard. Since I have no hand at all
at subtlety, I’m trying this very straightforward approach, where I just say what I’m thinking,
politely but not tactfully, and let them do with it what they want. Well, because these are top-drawer pros,
they just work with it and do great stuff, and – at least to my eye – the result is something really
fresh and touching.
What is so very extraordinary is that when an actor just clearly sees in his or her head what is in the lines,
the viewer sees it, so convincingly. The actor doesn’t really have to emote or “express,” just to see
and to speak.
At about 11, I checked into my hotel. The theater had set me up with a fridge with apples and cheese
and crackers and tea, and my own personal comforter. As soon as I had all the electronics unpacked
and set up (about 45 minutes), the late night trucks started to roar by. So I moved across the hall.
I fell asleep around 2 and slept like a dead man till 9.
So this is my new West-to-East jet lag cure: Get up at dawn, take and early flight on which you eat
nothing but a bowl of cereal, and work a full evening on something that fills you with joy.
Seems practical enough, don’t you think?