| NPR and the Lady – Jennie Perkson – Chinese dinner
Act II run-through. - 12/19/07
Aaron and I have gotten so close and so frank on this show that a wonderful, energetic, calm clarity made
today sail. * * *
I woke at 8 a.m. trying to clarify for myself what I’d like to see emerge from the “Tomorrow and tomorrow”
And I found myself coming back to the simple point of view that seems to be our lens into this experience:
“Macbeth” as a point-of-view shot in a horror movie.
So what, for us, does “Tomorrow and tomorrow” mean? Which of the many possible readings of that short
and stark poem is most deeply horrifying? To me, it’s the cold, nihilistic one: The depressing
argument that because of death, there’s just no point in going on.
It’s the very opposite of the way I live. Death urges me towards living, sucking every last drop
of sweetness and bitterness out of every rare and precious moment. And so the blackest version
of “Tomorrow…” is the one that, for a moment, can draw me into the web of nihilism and pessimism,
much as the final image of “Psycho” suggests that the deepest love leads to cold, colorless despair.
When I picture this scene this way, I see Macbeth holed up in his castle’s bunker, the safe room,
lightless except for a few harsh bulbs, casting walking shadows on the wall. Nowhere to go,
at a dead end, with only intelligence, no love, left.
I know nothing about directing, really. That’s a person’s life’s work, not something any dabbler can do
because he has daydreamed a show. But fortunately this dabbler is partnered with a real director
who finds my daydream useful.
Aaron, my co-conceiver, understands what it means to collaborate with actors, and when I watch him
I feel as though I’m watching a magic show.
* * *
We did a nice little interview for NPR this morning and showed them the phantom dagger trick.
Then later we brought them to the basement for a bloody Lady Macbeth rehearsal. There was
a bit of actor/director back-and-forth with Kate, talking about pitch of voice and style of movement.
Then she started in, first dry, then bloody.
This was the first time Aaron had seen the scene with blood and he gasped, and by the end was out
of his chair cheering, along with all the rest of us. It was a great moment. Up to now, the scene
had been gestating. Today marks the real birth, where the actress’s mind, the character’s mind,
and the magic all became one idea.
After the rehearsal, the NPR guys interviewed Kate (Lady M.) as she sat before them in a blood-drenched
* * *
We peeked into the costume shop to see fabrics and first assemblies of some costumes. The palette
of the show is coarse woolens in shades from dark warm browns to muted greens. Very handsome,
and rather with the feel of fine tweedy suits.
Then we headed off to the rehearsal hall.
* * *
After a half-hour’s work on our opening (sorry, I can’t talk about it), Aaron and I quit for an early
dinner break at Chong’s Chinese Restaurant. We had the early bird special.
This really was a meeting, a conference, probably our last big one for this trip. Aaron asked me
to tell him everything I was thinking about the daydream.
I ran down the whole “bunker” notion with noir lighting idea, glittering bars in the background.
Aaron felt that the bunker should be entered by only the two stark doors at the opposite sides
of the stage. He liked the way the starkly lit bunker notion would give the stage a new look and dimension.
He asked me to read aloud key passages and tell him the tone I’d daydreamed about. I shocked him
by suggesting that Macbeth might want to address the court doctor (who is treating Lady M) with
longing instead of rage, as is so often done. I want to feel we’re watching Mac grasp at the last shreds
of humanity as he drifts off into the cold darkness, the true horror.
He listened. He went where I was leading. He understood. He remembered.
* * *
Our goal between 5 and 9 p.m. was to run through the entire second act. I won’t detail every scene,
but just mention some of the outstanding moments.
* * *
The cauldron scene starts in the dark. I take Shakespeare literally and want to provide the sounds
the Sisters enumerate: three cat shrieks, four hedge-pig whines, and a huge, phantom voice (“Harpier”)
saying “’Tis time! ‘Tis time!” under the thunder. Aaron thinks it may sound silly. We tried it.
I liked it. But who knows how it will end up?
Aaron and I had a sort of bet on the Cauldron scene. Aaron thought there would be insufficient
time to see every ingredient thrown into the pot; that the Sisters should simply indicate
that some were already in (as if you were saying, “Let’s see, I’ve put in the cumin and the thyme,
let’s add a little marjoram.”) I thought every ingredient mentioned should be seen thrown
into the pot and worked in my first rehearsals to choreograph that possibility. Aaron agreed
to test my theory with stand-in ingredients.
Too bad there was no money on the bet.
The multiple ingredients looked terrific and Aaron gave his approval after a single run.
I guess we’re going to record and alter my voice as the voices of the apparitions. It will be my
little Alfred Hitchcock cameo.
* * *
Readers of these narratives will recall that Ian Peakes (Macbeth) is an athletic guy in his late thirties
with marine-short hair and goofy grin of teeth. He’s an explosion of energy, a human spring. He tends
Tonight in a swordfight with Macduff, the guys were working in their practice K-mart skirts.
This is a serious, prolonged, virtuoso bit of agonizing stage combat. Ian had just knocked down
Cody (Macduff). Ian’s line was a triumphant, “Thou losest labor!” He looked down and on observing
Cody’s legs spread in the skirt, exclaimed welcomingly, “Hello, Macduff!”
* * *
The most brutal scene in the play is the murder of Lady Macduff and her son (the Duffling). Aaron,
Matt, and especially Dale the fight guy have put a great deal of care into this scene.
Murdering a child is horrible, and Dale worked out a trick to make the dead child seem deader.
Aaron stepped in to help the kid act the role of a murder victim. Kids love playing dying and dead
(actually who doesn’t?). So they were exaggerating their death throes, screaming in silly ways,
and flopping around onstage giggling.
Aaron quieted the entire room and talked each of our Dufflings through the pain they were enacting.
He made them understand the reality of the injury, of what it would feel like, and how it would feel
to see the world retreat as they died.
Then they rehearsed the murder choreography. So when Cleo House, who murders the kid, says
the line, “What, you egg! Small fry of treachery,” and delivers the death blow, there was true
horror in the room.
Aaron’s added one additional touch to Lady Macduff final moments that makes her death one degree
more horrible. It’s very simple and gentle and not at all gory. I mustn’t name it now.
But when we finished the scene, Aaron himself was so freaked out, he ran off to the green room kitchen
to be alone for a while. I went after him and hugged him, and asked if he was all right.
He told me that now that he’s engaged to be married, he’s contemplating what it would mean to
have kids like the Duffling. He had hit himself too close to home.
* * *
Aaron tried the new “bunker” staging, and it was very cool. Macbeth arrives in his bunker with
his long-suffering page Seyton dragging the throne after him. Macbeth is rocketing through wild
mood shifts. He feels invincible, and powerless, and angry, and giddy, and grieved. It’s incredibly
lifelike, but terribly complex for an actor. Aaron had suggested that Ian deliver the “I am sick at
heart” soliloquy from the throne, but Ian felt he should sit on the floor.
And there, alone, like a kid, he told us his failed dreams. It was just a rehearsal. In a room
with fluorescent ceiling lights. I am not exaggerating: I was crying.
For the next 45 minutes we all watched an amazing collaboration in progress. Ian would
play his inspiration. Aaron would watch, so deeply into Ian’s thought process, that they were
like one person thinking. When the moment ended, Aaron would dash onto the set and the two would
stare into each other’s faces like wrestlers ready to rumble, and they would confer quietly, but
with an energy that was palpable from thirty feet. Then Aaron would run back to his seat and Ian
would explode in a slightly new direction. There was huge laughing between them, jokes and yelling,
two best friends on the squash court, challenging, triumphing, both high on adrenalin and art.
Somehow in this focused frenzy, Macbeth began longing for the doctor’s “sweet oblivious antidote”
to cleanse the disease of his mind and heart, just as I had imagined in the Chinese restaurant.
And when the doctor responded “Therein the patient must minister to himself,” Ian grinned and
pointed a terrifying finger at the doctor, as if to say, “I know you’re talking about me.”
It chilled me to the bone.
* * *
All the while our attention is focused on the stage, Kenny Wollesen is among his instruments,
making drums and hunks of weird junk touch the nerves directly, telling the truth of the scene musically.
At one point during a break I looked over and Kenny had taped tinfoil to a bass drumhead. He was
pressing a mallet against the head and rubbing the skin of his thumb along the side of the stick,
producing a shivering vibration that made my ribcage tremble.
* * *
And now we came to “Tomorrow and tomorrow….”
Seyton, Macbeth’s page, came to the door to announce simply, and without elaboration, “The queen,
my lord, is dead.”
Then Ian as Macbeth began talking to sixteen-year-old, rosy-cheeked Seyton. Really to him –
in the moment – human to human – no acting. Telling him things only a man who has wrecked
his life could know. He told him about tomorrow and tomorrow, not because Seyton could understand,
but because he happened to be the only person around to listen and Macbeth needed someone to listen.
At 8 in the morning that day I had dreamed of the stark horror of “Tomorrow and tomorrow.” I would
never have dreamed it would come this unexpectedly, this deeply, this sweetly.
* * *
The battle stuff is amazing, exhilarating, and the staging of the ending of the show is still a mystery.
But, as I told the cast at the end of the day: having seen the work they’ve done during
the last nine days, I will return to Vegas on Friday confident that this production will exceed
by light years everything I’d hoped for.