Now I just did Macbeth last year; twice, really. Spring was a 90-minute 7-actor cutting in which I was Duncan (killed onstage, so with the added fun of being asleep/dead across three cubes on uneven ground for a good fifteen minutes of that), the Doctor, what was left of Lennox, Seyton, First Murderer …maybe the apparition with the looking glass. It’s kind of a blur.
Then in July, a trimmed-but-full production in which I was simply the Porter and (more of) Lennox. It was my Little Track in a summer season with Kentucky Shakespeare in which the directors try very kindly to preserve everyone’s brain/body/ego by working towards a Big/Medium/Little track for most of the repertory company. I was Stephano (medium) in the Tempest, Petruchio (large, and with the “ch” sound, thank you) in Shrew, and calmly wound down the season with a single speech, a few dick jokes, some practically supernumerary exchanges and a little light group battling in Macbeth.
Which meant a lot of listening. I’ve played larger parts in Shakespeare and done others more – I even considered attempting the bar-bet-winning feat of memorizing all of Midsummer after my fourth production of it until real world concerns made me decide to spend that time and energy doing my job instead – but I’ve probably never listened to one as many times as Macbeth. And as tech begins for the Actors Theatre of Louisville production today, I’m prepared to hear it about thirty more times before Hallowe’en and, not coincidentally if I know the director, Election Day.
And that listening means I’ve inadvertently played all the roles now, in my head, as all actors do when hearing other actors’ choices, gauging which parts you’d steal from them and which parts you’d change. I think I’d be a terrific Lady Macduff, and I think I finally get Malcolm now. Those would be very specific productions, I imagine. (I should mention that I’m 43, 6’2”, male, pale, and predominantly bald.) I’m not holding my breath.
This one doesn’t have an audience until Tuesday, so I have yet to reach that place with this production’s rhythms where I’m knitting in the green room and pondering the lines, but my history with the show puts me in the spot where the Famous Bits are of less interest to me than the little parts in between. I understand why “Tomorrow and tomorrow” and “Come, you spirits” and “If it were done” are as revered as they are, but this time I’m terribly pleased with Banquo’s fraught
And when we have our naked frailties hid,/ That suffer in exposure, let us meet…
which is a lovely way to word what is mostly a Shakespearean reminder that everyone is on stage in their PJs. That happens a lot in this one – there are a lot of “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” type lines that I’ve seen get madly overacted when I firmly believe is a straightforward comment on freaky weather that the audience is supposed to hear the irony of but that the character doesn’t notice at all and therefore the actor just needs to get out of the way of. Another good example is a minute earlier in the description of Duncan’s wounds Macbeth delivers to the crowd right after the murther is discoverèd:
…his gash’d stabs look’d like a breach in nature/ For ruin’s wasteful entrance…
I don’t think he sees it as more that a figurative description…but we know better, don’t we? Makes one run one’s finger between neck and collar to let out the steam of awkwardness, don’t it?
Another bit I’m hearing more loudly this time is the oft-ignored-because-it’s-too-short-to-use-as-a-monologue bit just before (spoiler) Big Mac finds out his wife is dead:
I have liv’d long enough: my way of life
Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.
(That’s my cue)
Had a nice conversation the other day with the actor playing the lead about why the man who’s been going on for the last little while about his prophesied invincibility would get all “Today is a good day to die” like that all of a sudden. It made me think of Gulliver’s visit to the struldbrugs of Luggnagg, technically immortal but without faculty or function by the age of eighty. “They can’t defeat you” doesn’t mean “life will be worthwhile”. And before that scene ends, it does get a heap less worthwhile.
Also that “sear/yellow leaf” bit is lovely, isn’t it, on its own as well as when considering, you know, the impending trees? This production’s Macbeth has been giving “obedience” a little jab in the direction of my last silent exit, seeing as how Seyton has been called twice already. And the “Curses, not loud but deep” and “mouth-honor” seem an utterly realistic, likely take on how he’ll be treated while ruling instead of a paranoid delusion, which he’s been having for several acts by then. Maybe he finally got a nap in before the forest headed over.
Speaking of Dunsinane, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Ents of Tolkien’s Middle Earth were a direct figo to Shakespeare after J.R.R. (I should like to think we’re on a first three initials basis after all these years) was disappointed that the moving forest wasn’t really going to be a moving forest. So he made a vengeful but lumbering (you should pardon) moving forest.
And to his credit, it’s a hell of an ending.