I directed Macbeth at the Met Theatre in Hollywood. We had a lot of fun bringing this dark tale to life. I tried to avoid the clichés of chanting witches and an evil temptress by staying focused on the immediacy of the language in each moment, filling every word with intention and purpose and specificity. We found what I believe to be an entirely original take on the story’s magic, a way of understanding the supernatural forces in the play that simultaneously supports the text, reveals some of the deeper thematic elements, and frankly creeps me out a whole lot. And we explored a simple and theatrical way of telling a big story on a small canvas.
“About a dozen actors, under the capable leadership of director Josh Costello, come together to retell the familiar story of Macbeth and his rise to the throne and ultimate demise because of fear, greed, and ambition. In this production, Robert Tobin as Macbeth has imposing stage presence. So, too, does Julie Ann Hassett as his Lady Macbeth… John Rocha also does nice work as Macduff… kudos to Costello’s very creative staging.”
“An intimate look at the dark side… Josh Costello’s directing brings the well known story to a new setting… an evening of dark delight… the demise of this power-hungry lord inspires shock and satisfaction simultaneously… an extremely intimate setting, with the audience so close that it’s practically part of the action. I loved the immediacy of it. I felt the fourth wall disappear as I was pulled forcefully into the action taking place just feet away on stage…”
“This is a play that’s familiar to nearly everyone, but the MET troupe’s junkie witches and turnabout Brechtian staging brings fresh blood to the familiar. It’s evident even before the play begins, as director Josh Costello piles all the bodies on the stage, welcoming us to the coming bloodbath… Right away, we see we’re in new territory, as not all the witches are female in this show, nor all their sorcery paranormal; prophesy is taken in this play under the “spell” of a hypodermic syringe… Tobin [as Macbeth] quickly realizes that his fate is his fault, and it weighs on him. Heavily. Lady Macbeth isn’t burdened by conscience, and Ms. Hassett gives her none. Ms. Hassett, in fact, gives the play its very chilly best, looking at her husband adoringly only when he is most murderous, but remaining a hectoring maniac in his moments of humanity. Ms. Hassett is cool even when the script is edgy; she’s the rock-solid anchor on which all the treachery of the play is moored. Loved her in this part. …The kaledaiscope that is the rest of the cast twists artfully with every scene, revealing new characters, faces patterns at every turn. One actor, Adam Burch, takes no less than six parts—worth watching for…the decision not to slur the pace I think in this case is a judicious one, as the kinetic scramble of the actors weaving in and out of scenes actually creates more excitement than conventional stagings. And then there are those marvellous convulsions under the spell of the syringe—some very superior body-acting is accomplished here, more than one time, more than two, more than three—everyone’s got the fever, in fact, even Tobin. I hope someone from one of those crime shows catches this production; the whole cast is easily ready not just for more Shakespeare, but for CSI Vegas too.”
“…modernized, in this case, doesn’t mean mutilated, and the rich, bloody language is the Dog Star of this production… we liked this production very much. On a dirty, jagged postage-stamp of a stage, no more than twelve feet square, a strong ensemble cast steps forward, says their lines of unspeakable terror and beauty, and then steps down to the side… Tobin makes Macbeth seem like a really nice guy who just cracks under the pressure of the murders, and his greater madness, when it does come, is a shocking contrast to the sweet-faced first act. Hassett, unfortunately (and this is Shakespeare’s fault) doesn’t get enough time on stage, but she shines in the great scene where Banquo’s ghost comes and sits at the dinner table with Macbeth and fellow lords. She channels some kind of Beverly Hills madwoman-housewife, trying to make the guests stay at the table while her husband goes mad and draws a dagger at an empty chair. Rendon Ramsey as Banquo is understated in life and devastating in death, and Michael Hovance (is that Adrien Brody I see before me?) makes Malcolm a much more interesting part than we’d ever considered it to be. His frustration at exile comes off as being stunned into grief… Christopher Morrison’s fight choreography gives the final act a nice kick in the pants… Macbeth is the best bargain performance in town… This production is being untimely ripp’d from us on the 18th of December, so get it while you can”
Whenever an actor panics because someone has said “Macbeth” inside the theater, I reassure them by saying they can break the curse by reciting a line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and also maybe by spinning around three times while they say it or performing some such ridiculous task. It makes them feel better, and there’s something appealing in the idea that Shakespeare’s dark play of magic can be balanced by his light magical comedy. Macbeth is as filled with magic as any of his plays — some scholars argue, convincingly, that Macbeth himself becomes a witch by the end of the story. And where the magic in Midsummer is mischievous and delightful, the magic in Macbeth is dangerous and horrible.
But a better opposite for Macbeth, or for Macbeth the character, might be the Prince of Denmark. Because it’s not just about the magic, or even about the darkness. Macbeth is a man who takes action, and Hamlet, famously, does not. Of course, a case could be made that Hamlet is constantly pursuing his goal and that his apparent lack of will grows from the complexity of his plight. But when it comes down to it, we watch Hamlet hesitate and we watch Macbeth do. Both Hamlet and Macbeth are faced with difficult choices, and their reactions are very telling. Hamlet desperately wants to act but finds he must wait until the time is ripe. Macbeth wishes he could stop, but his fears drive him to go further and further down the road that he well knows leads to power and ruin. Where we admire Hamlet for his keen intellect, sensitivity, and creativity, we are drawn to Macbeth for the way he confronts his fears by becoming fearful himself.
We are all of us, on some level, drawn to power. And maybe there’s another kind of magic in that. We know that power corrupts; we know that it’s wrong to lie, cheat and steal. And most of the time, we don’t do it — we let our desire to be a good person win out over our darker desire to take the thing we want and consequences be damned. But when a character in a story makes the other choice, the choice we contemplate and fantasize about but usually don’t make, it’s fascinating. And the further that character goes, the more fascinating it becomes — we want to see them punished, but there’s a part of us that thrills to see them wield their newfound strength.
Magic is a funny thing. There’s the magic of a superstition, a curse on the name of 400-year-old play; it comes true only if you believe it will come true, because you’ll make it happen. And there’s the magic of woodland fairies or of mysterious witches. But there’s also theatrical magic, the magic of a group of actors and an audience, using their imaginations together to create another world and a story to fill it up. That moment in which language and gesture and image all come together in a shared act of creation. This is magic for here and now, for everyone. And it’s what brought us all together tonight. Enjoy.