| The Second Preview day - 1/16/08
After the show last night one of the Guys, Gsell (the theater’s managing director), drove me into New York
City so that I’d be in town for a brief 7:45 a.m. TV spot with Penn. I arrived at 1:30 a.m., but – for
no diagnosable reason – didn’t really fall asleep until 5 and had to be up at 6:15. * * *
On 75 minutes of sleep, I was grateful they had makeup for the guests. Penn plugged “Macbeth” and
his great “Penn Says” show on crackle.com and I lip-mimed “Two River Theater” when he needed the name.
Then Jayme Powers (communications director, i.e. P.R. person) took me to ABC to do a radio interview
with their arts person. I’m not really a radio guy, you know, but the interviewer was a fan and I
love this project and that carried me through fine.
Then we drove back for a meeting at 11 with Aaron to go over my notes from the previous night.
Among a stack of technical notes, I suggested we keep Malcolm (Scott Kerns) seated while he talks
about his “voluptuousness.” With him seated, I think the whole scene is clearer and funnier.
Aaron likes this and Dan Conway (designer) is having a stool built for the purpose (apart from
the throne, this is the only seat in the play). When I do these notes with Aaron, I learn so much
from what he agrees and disagrees with.
And speaking of Dan Conway: Dan is just a walking glow of energy and joy. Ruddy-cheeked and beaming,
he is in constant motion, spray painting, stapling, and screw-gunning. He leaps to help solve any
problem on the set, and I’ve never seen an artist who more readily gets his hands dirty.
The afternoon was spent working on problems we’d identified the night before. I worked with Weird Sister
Eric on gliding backwards. This is a spooky moment; not the most puzzling trick in the show but just
a touch of weirdness. Eric is in a bridal gown and at one point just glides away backwards into the
darkness, as though retreating on roller-skates. This is a very hard bit of gymnastics, acting, and
whole-body puppetry. Eric and I spent twenty minutes in the costume shop in front of the mirror, then
40 minutes in the rehearsal hall.
At one point we invited Devon Painter, our redheaded costume designer in. Now, though she’s reckoning
with a costume situation at least as complicated as any Broadway musical, Devon stays amazingly serene
and full of offers to help. She asked what we wanted (a substitution of black velvet for white lace in
a certain undergarment) and said she’d have it ready by showtime -- as easy as that. Then I called
Kenny in and said I thought we needed a better sound to accompany the move. He played it on his
weird Hindu water bowl, and it was done.
I know. You want conflict. No story is good without conflict. You want a vain star and a psychotic crew.
Sorry. In this show the conflict is between an incredibly difficult dream and an army of three dozen
people in love with each other and the dream itself. Our conquest is reality, the play, not one another.
* * *
My notion that the dagger would appear in reflection in a mirror is a fine idea for an image, but it is not
a story. So everything we’ve seen in the “Is this a dagger?” scene so far has felt unsatisfying
and incomplete. It feels like a special effect, a part of an idea, not a complete one. I often track
ideas like a bloodhound. I can smell them in the woods, know they’re there, but might not know exactly
the shape and size of the beast until I spend more time on the trail.
Now, something that Aaron and Matt have taught me: when you have great actors, give them problems to solve.
Truly great actors, have bits of playwright, magician, and choreographer in them. So I told Ian we
needed to go deeper, find the inner truth of the idea, and – of course – come up with an ending for
the magic story in the scene.
Ian began to work. He dozed under the mirror and spotted the dagger. He pulled out his own.
And then he did something striking: he matched his own dagger’s movement to the spectral dagger
as it “martials me the way that I was going.” It was as though the real dagger was being magnetically
controlled by the spectral one.
Matt was watching and jumped out of his seat. I considered that a good sign.
I asked Ian to run it again. Before he began, Ian said, “I have an idea. I’ll just show it to you.”
He did it, and this time again the spectral dagger seemed to be controlling Ian’s movement. But as Ian rose
to grab at the image one last time, he maneuvered his own dagger so that it seemed to come right out
of the mirror as the spectral dagger vanished. It was as though the ghostly image in the air had become real.
Ian seemed pleased. Matt and I jumped up and down and yelled joyful obscenities. I hugged Ian and told
him he was a genius.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur. I know Aaron did some very smart restagings, and fine-tuned lights,
and lots of other wonderful and important stuff. But the reflected ghost-dagger was the first image
that I had for this show, and to see it come to such a perfectly symmetrical conclusion left me quite
drunk with happiness.
* * *
As you know, the classic bad-luck theater superstitions are:
Never quote from “Macbeth.”
Never say, “Good luck!”
Never whistle in a dressing room (or even onstage).
And never allow a peacock feather backstage.
Jayme the P.R. director came to me with a package from Penn & Emily.
It was a bouquet of fifty peacock feathers.
* * *
Penn and Emily and Jamy Swiss were coming to the show that night. We all went to dinner at Danny’s,
the great steak joint just down the street from the theater. If you ever go to Danny’s and order
the “Chateaubriand for two,” be sure you have at least five friends to eat it. It is a tower
of perfect meat on a mountain of oven-browned mashed potatoes. I would be surprised if the whole
thing weighed less than twelve pounds.
I entered the theater and was delighted to see Burt Boyette, the P&T stage manager, who had flown
out especially for the event. I nightly see her in her black working uniform with her black Greek
sailor cap; here she was dressed for the theater and looked stunning. “I wouldn’t have missed
it for anything,” she said matter-of-factly, and I choked up a little bit.
Several magicians were there, including the Waldorf’s elegant Steve Cohen, Jamy and one or two others.
The house was good. I sat in the back to take notes. The lights went down.
It was a good show, much better than the night before, but with still some problems.
A witch vanished clumsily (that whole scene needed work). The dagger floated uncertainly and
was too dim to see the blood. The cauldron failed to smoke. A secret door got a little out of
control in the second act. And Lady Macbeth was still not horribly bloody at the end of
her nightmare. There is still much work to be done.
I wish Penn could have seen it more polished, but he, above everybody, knows what it is to
see the beginning performances. Afterwards he and Emily both wrote me very happy, loving,
enthusiastic notes, saying that looking at the show was like looking into my brain.
* * *
After the show we talk to the cast for a few minutes then do notes with the designers and tech folks
for about an hour. It’s a job that has to be done, no matter how fatigued one is. On Monday
(last night) somebody told me that fans had come from, I think, Texas and wanted to say hi.
I wanted so much to say hello to them, but I couldn’t break away from my job. The play’s the thing,
Tonight the big question was: How do we make Frank’s skin-crawling Sister masks read to people
in the back row of the theater? Thom Weaver (lighting), suggested we treat them as skin cut
off corpses and donned by the Sisters. Assistant director Jeremy liked that: he’s been lobbying
to try the masks plain white, so that in the dim lights, they’ll glow like skulls. Devon said
she’d have them ready for the next day’s show, and looking like pallid masks of dead skin.
Soon, we need to give the actors back the play. Somehow in all the whirlwind of technical things,
in all our insistence on extreme clarity of storytelling, I think we’ve distracted the actors
from the succulent pleasure of the words.
For after all, possibly the very best thing about Shakespeare is that he’s created characters
that get huge pleasure out of words and ideas. “I am in blood so far stepped in, that, should
I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Really, how do you beat that?