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Macbeth, Teller style
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Sunday morning, early, myself, kestrell, londo, juldea, freerange_snark, and B all headed out on a road trip to see some bloody good Shakespeare.

Conversation between londo and myself in the AM:
L: Is there a reason I should use one shower or the other?
A: I wouldn't recommend trying to use both at once; likely to get messy.
L: Yeah, I haven't quite got that whole 'bilocation' thing down yet.

It turned out that freerange_snark had got even less sleep than me, so she elected to drive the whole way down, hoping (correctly, as it turned out) that I could then handle the whole way back. Both trips were free of incident, just lengthy.

Much lively conversation on the way down; less so on the way back as people zoned out and/or slept. Why *is* there a park in NJ named "Cheesequake"?

The show itself was excellent, though perhaps not worth quite the expense and effort that we expended to see it. If I had the choice to make over again, I might choose differently, but I certainly don't *regret* having gone. It was a unique theatrical experience, and it's hard to balance those against things like time and money.

Spoilers follow, in case you care.

There was about as much magic as I expected. That is to say, everywhere that a magic trick could enhance the story, there was one, and no more. Even in this, one of Shakespeare's most FX-laden stories, that turns out to be only five or six occasions. I managed to see through the misdirection on one of Banquo's ghostly exits, only to then be totally taken in by a triple fakeout on his next entrance. Kes will testify how I jumped in my seat :)

I *was* surprised at how little blood there was. Well, relative to my expectations, anyways. For a modern production, there was a hell of a lot more of it than typical. They did reach the Michael Anderson criterion for "*authentic* Shakespeare" ("when they have to mop the blood off the stage"), though only for one moment at the very end. In fact, worries about slippage may have had something to do with the lack of splashing blood for the earlier portions of the show. Some of the more significant fights left bloody wounds on the combatants, but MacDuff's family dies bloodlessly.

When they *did* have blood, it was used to very good effect. Seyton announces the death of Lady Macbeth while staring at his own hand, covered in her blood. Macbeth nuzzles that hand lovingly, leaving a smear of red on his cheek that stays with him until his death. It's a literally awe-ful way of maintaining the presence of Lady M in both Macbeth's mind and that of the audience, even after the actress is long gone.

Lady M stole most of her scenes, as happens in most good productions. Well, perhaps 'stole' is the wrong word, since it seems so correct for her to do so. It takes a poor production indeed for Lady M to not get a huge laugh at "You have displaced the mirth." Not an inherently funny line, but context and timing make for a big laugh if you don't screw up.

The costuming and makeup were largely subdued, but served the story needs well. I say 'largely', on account of the Weird Sisters being *very* weird, and more than a little decayed and corpse-like. The way that the rest of the costumes were fairly mundane helped make theirs stand out as otherworldly.

Lighting was very good, and sound was fucking brilliant. Both were willing to go way over the top to illustrate a character's mental state, yet subdued and subtle where appropriate. The shadowy percussionist, an indistinct shape lurking in his darkened cage at the rear of the stage, produced marvelous cacophonies.

The Porter rocked the house. They gave him lots of new dialog, but if any character wants to speak with a contemporary voice, it's him. He interacted a great deal with the audience, and helped shore up two of the big themes of this production. Firstly, that the world of living men *is* Hell, and secondly that we, the audience, were its Devils. Several characters have lines about being watched by Devils, and all of these were directed out at us, watching.

This blurring of the boundaries between stage space and audience space happened several times over the course of the production. Notably, when Malcolm is rallying his forces before the battle, those forces were arrayed throughought the theater, surrounding the audience, and pacing back and forth like restless tigers. The audience may be complicit in letting the bad man do bad deeds, but they still demand his blood to assuage their consciences.

The swords were not terribly realistic, being extremely shiny. But they used that shine well in the lighting design, both to call attention to the weapons themselves, and to use the reflected rays of light in interesting manners.

The fighting was... competent. They certainly did much better than average, but knowing rickthefightguy has left me with extremely high standards.

The severed heads were, sadly, lame. Now I know that this particular Renaissance stage trope is extremely hard to pull off. The head can't look fake, especially if it's supposed to be a character we've seen while alive. On the other hand, it can't help but look fake: real dead people don't look... 'real', any more. Lots of productions equivocate the heads in some way or another, but I had hoped for better from this one. They had this idea that if they briefly showed you a severed head inside a brown sack, then that would make all further lumpy brown sacks 'read' as severed heads. Didn't work, at least for me. They had a semi-clever set concept for Act 2 that I didn't recognize until near the end of the show: Macbeth's ramparts would be liberally covered in severed heads to viscerally show how tyrranous he has been. But I just wondered why there were all those sacks up there.

The best severed head I have yet heard of (didn't actually see it myself) was during a BU production of Edward the II, where in one rehearsal or performance, there was blood dripping out the neck of the model head. They decided that that was too over-the-top for their production, but I think it would have added a lot to this one.

The pacing was extremely tight throughout. I didn't notice many cuts (aside from Hecate, and lots of people cut that bit), but they doubled several scenes, with foreground and background action happening in different places. Sometimes these were pre-existing scenes, but they opened with a nifty addition. The Witches speech happens *around* the end of Macbeth slaughtering the rebels, so you get to see first hand both what a great fighter he is, and what the "hurly-burly" is about.

A thought about Macbeth that has little to do with this production, but which occurred to me while discussing it with the others. How good a king *was* Duncan? Macbeth says he's a great guy, but he's got a huge guilt complex. Other people who talk about Duncan do so in front of Duncan himself, or in front of his heirs, and may not be completely forthright. What we *know* about Duncan is that he just had to put down a rebellion, which doesn't put him in a very flattering light. Was he as much of a tyrant as Macbeth, facing foes of his own creation? That's one way to tell the story. Another, perhaps more interesting tack, would be to ascribe the rebellion to Duncan being *too* good a man -- too trusting and merciful, one who invites being taken advantage of.

The play has an interesting attitude towards honesty. The forces of Hell say nothing but scrupulously true statements. The arguable hero of the play, Malcolm, has by far his biggest scene entirely concerned with how good a liar he is. Perhaps what we have here is a progression: a king who is too honest, yielding to a king who is too dishonest, yielding to a king who forms a synthesis by understanding how effective politics require a mix of truth and lies.
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Why *is* there a park in NJ named "Cheesequake"?

Apparently, it is from a Lenape Indian word "Chese-oh-ke" meaning "uplands".


But answering the question takes all the fun out of it!

So *that's* why those sacks were up there!

See! It took me too long to get it, and some people didn't get it at *all*. It's one part of the design that is a clear failure.

Yeah, those were pretty ineffective, though I did pick up what they were before the action started. I think the sacks weren't so much "brown" as "dried-blood-y," and one or two of them were carefully molded around the fake head inside to show the outlines of an open mouth, a nose, and eyes. I'm not sure I would have noticed those things, however, had I not gotten back to my seat while they were hanging the sacks, giving me a chance to get a good look at them while the lights were up. Even then it took me a minute to figure it out.

I think the sacks weren't so much "brown" as "dried-blood-y,"

Uh, no. They were a uniform light brown. Dried blood is a much darker brown, and presumably would have been a lot less even.

I had a discussion with a director once about that last idea on Duncan - that he was such a complete moron and so naive that the country was groaning under his incompetence, so that we are more sympathetic at first to Macbeth, and so that Mac's initial reluctance to murder him is a real struggle with some depth. Never seen it done though. For me, it is Macduff that is the confusing character. Does he care about his wife and children? If so, why does he leave them in Scotland when he goes to England to rebel against Mac? And why doesn't he have a single scene with them? This guys _never_ talks to his wife on stage...

Yeah, I sometimes think that there's a missing scene or three. I've always felt that Macbeth's tyranny was underdeveloped, and that there ought to be some specific event that motivates MacDuff to flee the country with no notice.

One of the very nice, subtle things that this production *did* do well, is that in one of MacDuff's early scenes, he enters with his son riding on his shoulders, and holding his wife's hand. Without any extra dialog, it made the loving family realtionship immediately clear.

The final image of the show was MacDuff, shirtless and bloody, cradling Macbeth's head and sobbing his heart out. The evil king has been slain, but that doesn't heal all the harm he wrought.

For me, it is Macduff that is the confusing character. Does he care about his wife and children? If so, why does he leave them in Scotland when he goes to England to rebel against Mac?

Hmm. Replace Macduff with John Adams. He didn't get to see his wife for something like seven years during the Revolution, and left her in what might be considered harm's way. except for the fact that the British generally didn't act that way (and yes, there were some notable exceptions). I think that's part of the point of Lady Macduff's murder - it goes beyond the pale for acceptable behavior in warfare.

Apologies for coming in no this late, but re MacDuff: yeah! Whenever he's giving his tearful vengence speech onstage, I always find myself thinking, "Well, what did you *think* Macbeth would do?" On the other hand, I think there is some evidence that he, along with his wife, equivocates too long,e ven knowing the danger.

Re Duncan: there is some definite conflict between the historical Duncan, who was widely agreed to be a wuss and a weakling, with the kindfom actually thriving for ten years under the historical Macbeth, and the Duncan of the play, who plays the part of Shakespeare's ideal king, namely, a peacemaker who plants the seeds of contentment on the political, domestic, and agricultural level. Part of the problem is that it is really difficult to imagine a peack-loving medievla Scot, or really, any peace-loving medieval king for that matter.

Why *is* there a park in NJ named "Cheesequake"?

Wikipedia is your friend

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheesequake_State_Park

Nope. Wikipedia is a useful resource. *You* are my friend :-)

See, now you've gone and hurt wiki's feelings. Next time you ask him something, he's going to feed you a bunch of nonsense and claim that 'vandals recently edited that'.

Rick knows what he's talking about here! I once told him that I don't like Sleep, I just tolerate it. "Shh!", he said. "You're going to hurt Sleep's feelings!" And sure enough, I had awful insomnia for the next week.

Alice sighed wearily. `I think you might do something better with the time,' she said, `than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.'

`If you knew Time as well as I do,' said the Hatter, `you wouldn't talk about wasting IT. It's HIM.'

`I don't know what you mean,' said Alice.

`Of course you don't!' the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. `I dare say you never even spoke to Time!'

`Perhaps not,' Alice cautiously replied: `but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.'

`Ah! that accounts for it,' said the Hatter. `He won't stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o'clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!'

(`I only wish it was,' the March Hare said to itself in a whisper.)

`That would be grand, certainly,' said Alice thoughtfully: `but then--I shouldn't be hungry for it, you know.'

`Not at first, perhaps,' said the Hatter: `but you could keep it to half-past one as long as you liked.'

`Is that the way YOU manage?' Alice asked.

The Hatter shook his head mournfully. `Not I!' he replied. `We quarrelled last March--just before HE went mad, you know--' (pointing with his tea spoon at the March Hare,) `--it was at the great concert given by the Queen of Hearts, and I had to sing

"Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!"

You know the song, perhaps?'

`I've heard something like it,' said Alice.

`It goes on, you know,' the Hatter continued, `in this way:--

"Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle--"'

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep `Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle--' and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

`Well, I'd hardly finished the first verse,' said the Hatter, `when the Queen jumped up and bawled out, "He's murdering the time! Off with his head!"'

`How dreadfully savage!' exclaimed Alice.

`And ever since that,' the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, `he won't do a thing I ask! It's always six o'clock now.'

The bags read as heads to me, but the props people were very careful to make certain that the facially molded side faced toward the audience. I wonder if there'd been comments during the earlier run similar to yours here.

Since it's a personal squick, it was extremely disturbing.

I found the sound annoying. The percussion was excellent, but the constant underlining of anything supernatural with that high pitched glissando irritated me very quickly. Again, they didn't trust the language (or the actors) to do its job. One or two of those touches at the beginning, or only using it during the weird sisters' scenes might have heightened rather than detracted.

they didn't trust the language (or the actors) to do its job

I disagree with your implied assumption here. Just because one aspect of a piece of art is *capable* of carrying the entire meaning does not mean that the other aspects should not support it. This is something that comes up in my work quite often. Ideally, you should be *able* to understand a game character's behavior from any aspect (dialogue, vocal tone, animation, etc.), but just because any one would do is no excuse to slack on the others. If they all work together, you get maximum immersion. That this production made the sound a significant aspect in no way implies a failure of trust in other aspects.

That said, I don't object to your specific opinion that the sound here was overpowering. It worked for me, but mileage varies.

There's also an issue about the size of the theaters we saw the production in. Much of the play seemed far too loud to me, and in reading Teller's blog about the size differential, I wonder if that's part of what makes our opinions so different.

I like music in Shakespearean productions, generally, but I feel the language needs to form the production and the other aspects should underline not overwhelm it. The percussion did that for me. The glissando, which on a couple of occasions was so loud it went over the beginning of the next line, didn't.

Maximum immersion is the ideal.

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