| The Third Preview Day - 1/17/08
When I arrived this morning, I ran into Kenny Wollesen. He had a big, empty coffee can under his arm
and his eyes were beaming through his glasses. He was headed for the carpentry shop behind the theater.
He has a new sound in his head, methinks… * * *
The problems left to solve no longer seem endless.
I have two big objectives today: To polish the first Sister vanish and to try an idea for the departure of
the Sisters at the end of the cauldron scene.
The first Sister vanish is critical: It’s the moment where the audience is deciding whether
or not to trust the magic of the show. If that trick is satisfying, I think the audience
will ride with us happily and willingly.
But, as in any good magic trick, there is not one trick but many happening at the same time.
There are four people involved, along with mechanics, choreography, manual skill, acting,
and words. We must, as Shakespeare puts it, “leave no rubs not botches in the work,” or the
trick will not be convincing. And magic is an off-on switch. Either a trick is astounding or
it sucks. There is no middle ground.
This means working the trick again and again until all the little sticking points, the burrs
that catch and abrade the flow, are burnished away.
So I began my day with the Weird Sisters and pushed everybody to do the trick again and again
and again till they were bored with it, so that in performance they can concentrate on playing
instead of counting steps. I put our whole rehearsal schedule behind to make this happen.
Aaron accepted my decision, and I think we’ll be glad we did it.
Oh, and let me say: the Sister masks being white looks fantastic. A strong scent of Palermo
and a whiff of Texas Chainsaw.
As we moved on to improving the visibility of the “air drawn dagger,” Brian, the artist who sculpted
the gates and all the fabulously-shaped steel on the set, was sitting in the house with Duane,
the tireless, ingenious carpenter responsible for building everything, a man who never says no.
When I’d first encountered Brian, I don’t think I made a very good impression. A magic-related
item had been miscommunicated to him, and I had to ask him to do a massive amount of work to correct it.
Today Brian was in the theater watching our rehearsal. During a break, he came up to me and offered
suggestions for two elegant mechanical ideas that he offered to build that would make two hard
tricks easier and more secure. I guess he’s forgiven me for being a finicky twit.
I am surrounded with people like Brian – tough, demanding, artistic types who have opened their hearts
to this enterprise. Everybody from the cleaning staff to the craftsmen to the stars has taken
this show personally.
* * *
While Aaron worked with the actors in the studio theater, I addressed the finale of the Cauldron
scene on the main stage. This is a hard situation. We’ve yet to find the right idea for
the departure of the Sisters at end of this scene. Making three large men disappear just ain’t easy.
Thus far we’ve flashed lightning and revealed they’re gone. Pretty lame, to my way of thinking.
So last night I thought of this: Instead of making the Sisters disappear, suppose we transformed
them into Macbeth’s two henchmen. It’s the start, I think, of a good idea. And it does go nicely
with our theme of “Nothing is but what is not.” Let’s give it a try tonight…
* * *
Kenny pulled me aside and showed me what he’d made from the coffee can. He’d stuck a rod in and fastened
it to the middle of the bottom of the can. Then he’d strung a wire so that it somehow scraped
against the bottom of the can when he turns a handle on the other end of the rod. It made the
most bone-chilling fingernails-on chalkboard sound imaginable.
“What do you think?” he grinned.
“The murder of Lady Macduff?”
* * *
Later I watched Aaron working with Thom to light the terrifying scene right after Duncan’s murder.
It’s gorgeous, just gorgeous. We can see their faces clearly but the whole stage glimmers
with a sort of tiger-striped orange light, the visual equivalent of the shattered state of
mind our characters are in.
* * *
A former student of mine, Tom Riti, now runs a local high-school television production education program
and I arranged for him to see the show tonight. I’d also received word that a group of thirty or so
teachers from Lawrence High, along with John Ward (principal of the school when I taught there) were
attending and wanted me to join them at The Little Kraut, a German restaurant near the theater.
So I combined the two dates and joined my former teaching colleagues with my former student.
The night was true “Macbeth” weather – an icy downpour of rain – and Tom Riti shared his umbrella
with me as we walked past the train station to the restaurant.
The group occupied eight tables. I shook hands with John Ward. Ward was a tough marine and a
superb principal. He could even handle me. I hated ties. I stopped wearing them. So one day
he took me aside and said, “I know you don’t care for ties. And there’s nothing in the school
rules that requires you wear them. I also believe and understand that I have no right to tell
you how to dress. But I really like the way a school looks when the male teachers wear ties.
I think it helps the atmosphere. Would you be willing to humor me on this?” I obliged at once,
and cheerfully. The man knew his stuff.
Here at The Little Kraut, John Ward was wearing a tie and I was not (after a day of sweating with the cast).
But it occurred to me that, in the long run, given my costume for the Penn & Teller show, Mr. Ward had won.
* * *
The food was great we all talked as though we were continuing a conversation from thirty-three years ago.
One of my best language department gal-pals had brought along a school yearbook and showed me pictures
of her and me together. I sat across from a female teacher – still pretty and trim -- who had directed
the school shows, and we talked showbiz.
I learned that Berenice Holcombe, the Language Department head who mentored me as a teacher, is still
alive in her nineties. Mrs. Holcombe literally saved my life: had she not given me a job (on the
strength of her gut instincts), I would have been drafted and been sent to Vietnam during that lethal war.
Mrs. Holcombe taught me everything she could. That must not have been easy. All I brought to the table
was imagination and ego – I didn’t even know Latin all that well. Mrs. H. was an all-American,
old-school master teacher. She must have been about sixty years of age when I met her, and still
a great beauty, with a golden, outdoorsy gardener’s complexion, and the truest-blue eyes imaginable.
She loved French and Latin, and unabashedly demanded that the students achieve mastery. In Berenice’s
view, I think, the whole current “relativist” trend of education would seem shameful pandering.
And she would be absolutely right. She had standards that shone bright, and I never met a student
– even ones she had conflicts with – who did not respect what she stood for. It makes me happy to
know she’s still beaming her light at the world.
Riti and I returned through the rain, reminiscing about a short vampire play we’d written together
back when I was a teacher. I promised I’d look for the script of that play and he said he’d look
for the videotape of a short film he’d made of it. Then I went back to work.
Tonight was not perfect, but the play felt like “Macbeth,” not just a collection of individual
scenes and bits. The story moved. The “air drawn dagger” was still not quite bright enough;
the cauldron smoke was still late; the blood effect still didn’t fully work for Lady Macbeth;
Macbeth’s death wound was not yet convincing. But the Sister vanish was very fine and I think
we’re on to something with our post-cauldron transformation.
And tonight, the cast shone. As you know, we’re trying to break out of the clichéd (and textually misguided)
interpretation of Mr. & Mrs. Macbeth as a weakling and a fiend, respectively. We want the audience
to grasp Macbeth’s intelligence (he’s ultimately right about everything); and to let Lady M. be not
a Judith Anderson-style witch, but a passionate, driven woman trying to steel herself to murder,
and later being crushed by guilt. And when she departs into the night, whimpering, “To bed, to bed,
to bed…” the feeling should be tragic, not merely that the bad girl is getting what she deserves.
Tonight these ideas glowed. After the show I visited the cast. “That,” I said, “did not suck.”
They laughed and clapped.
I made a date with Kate Norris to fix the Lady M. blood problems first thing tomorrow afternoon
(she’s been very patient while we squared away the other stuff, but now she needs this just fixed);
and an appointment with Cody to help get Mac’s death wound looking hideous.
After Aaron and I did notes with the design group, Thom Weaver the lighting designer, artfully
disheveled in a sweater striped like a yellow jacket, came up to me and said, “The look of the
dagger will be solved tomorrow. When I worked with Jules Fisher, he used to say that if you can’t
find a lighting instrument to do what you need it to do, you need to invent it. So let me do some
work tonight and we’ll have it tomorrow.”
I invited Aaron, Jeremy (assistant director), and Matt to the 24-hour diner in downtown Red Bank
to go over performance notes. Over matzoh ball soup and chicken salad sandwiches we talked till 2.
Then off to bed, to bed, to bed…
At 4:30 a.m. the chicken salad in my stomach began to do a jig. With the help of some antacids,
I fell back to sleep. At 6:15, the woman across the hall invited the hotel engineer to come up
and replace the lock on her door, to the accompaniment of a walkie-talkie at maximum volume.
“Sleep no more,” is what Macbeth hears in his imagination as he murders King Duncan. Perhaps
that voice was speaking to directors as well.