A day in the rehearsal hall: Macbeth, September 2019
By Philippa Kelly, dramaturg
As we begin our day, the morning is already warm. In defiance of the thermometer we boil cups of fragrant Earl Grey tea and strong, delicious Peet’s coffee. Some of us take our shoes off, it’s already that warm, made moreso because there’s some noisy machinery nearby and we’ve had to close the rehearsal room door.
The Stage Manager Cheryle and the production team do their check-in with Victor Malana Maog, director, and Lana Russell, Assistant Director, recently arrived to make her home in the Bay. Small but mighty Liz Sklar (AKA Lady Macbeth, ex-Desdemona) is enveloped by a huge skirt that helps pour her spirit into that of “our gracious hostess,” lady of Inverness castle—the ambitious, devoted wife who clutches her husband’s letter to her heart in loving expectation, the clear-sighted strategist who knows all of her husband’s strengths and failings, the grieving mother who prays for spirits to “take my milk for gall” to lend strength for an upcoming regicide. Grief, anger, ambition—these are all emotions we’ve discussed in the first week of tablework, as we’ve puzzled over Lady M’s reception of the letter from her husband telling her of the witches’ predictions that he will be king, and, therefore, that she will be queen. Why does she want it so badly and so soon?
Rey Lucas, playing Macbeth, has been in the hall for a while already this morning, running lines and mapping his way through the space. Our set is a cage modeled on the idea of constriction that predominates in Macbeth: from the play’s first scenes, the protagonist is filled with dread in thoughts of a deed that he knows will fill him with remorse. Or is it remorse? Macbeth expresses horror at the murder—it’s happened in his mind even before he completes it—but is it horror about the assassination of a “sainted king,” or horror at the reflection of himself as no longer noble and valiant, a coward who, in one night alone, murders three people defenseless in sleep and murders the man he once was? Is he a flawed man of greatness, or a nascent psychopath whom the witches know to hold villainy beneath his valiance? (And witches never spell anything good—King James I knew this all too well, as he spent much of his early life suspecting, hunting, convicting and killing them.) These are some of the questions that swirl around the rehearsal room, in which “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” and “nothing is but what is not.” Who are the witches? What do they say about Macbeth? Do they goad him to evil? Or do they answer to the evil that already lies dormant within him, ready to be ignited?
Macbeth is perhaps more fascinating than ever today as we contemplate the politics of facades, and the facades of politics. What kinds of human beings will lie and cheat their way to the top? And why are those they attack so susceptible to destruction? Macbeth’s ascendancy is based on lies, and he cheats Duncan to his death—but what makes him and his wife so compelling is that they cheat themselves forever of happiness: their deeds fracture them, depriving them of the basic needs of life that we humans don’t know are so crucial until we lose them—the capacity to sleep in peace; the freedom to eat a meal in pleasure with friends, the belief that tomorrow is a new day with hopeful expectation; the freedom to roam in one’s thoughts unperturbed by “scorpions” and “snakes” that are scotched but not yet killed.
Macbeth is a rocky ride through some of the darkest parts of being human. Under the direction of Victor, an artist who blends optimism with a deep understanding of human darkness and a wonderful facility with the intricacies of text and movement, this warm day throbs with an extra heat—that of minds and bodies grappling with the staging of human disintegration, and a Scotland of eight centuries ago that may have uncanny resonances with the chaos and uncertainty of today.
Macbeth begins performances September 18. Get tickets and more information here.