“Outstanding,” said Peter Shea as he walked past me after Saturday night’s performance of Macbeth: Rehearsing.
I nodded. “Yes, the show was…”
“No.” Peter interrupted me. “You. You were outstanding.”
Oh, that’s right. I was in the show.
The conceit of Nightpath Theatre’s staging of the Shakespeare classic is that we’re watching a rehearsal of Macbeth at Red Eye Theater. The show starts with vocal exercises, and eventually the actors start in on the script. There are occasional starts and stops, as director Maggie Scanlan (who also stars as Lady Macbeth) coaches the cast. Sometimes, lines are forgotten, or a cast member waiting for her cue takes a call on her phone. At the beginning of Act Two, several audience members (this is where I came in) join the Macbeths on stage as guests at their haunted banquet.
|macbeth: rehearsing, presented through january 22 at red eye theater. for information, see facebook.com.|
I learned after seeing the show that this production is actually in process, changing every night, but if you see the show only once, It’s impossible to tell how much of the meta-show is planned and how much is improvised. Instead of making the production feel more alive, the interruptions feel intrusive and contrived. Instead of making the process of playmaking more transparent, this staging makes it more opaque. Did that call really just happen to come in? Did she really just forget that line? Did he really become so invested in his character that he lashed dangerously out at his fellow cast member? I could be wrong, but I’m assuming the answers are no, no, and no.
The distracting frame is too bad, because there are some fine performances in this production. Michael Ooms is a forceful Macbeth (even if the force is too little, too late) and Kristin Foster a sturdy then spooky Banquo. Scanlan is an appropriately dominating Lady Macbeth, though the production leaves at a mere suggestion the parallel between Scanlan’s disastrously controlling character and Scanlan’s larger role as the show’s real-life director. Notably, Christopher Kehoe and Andie Olthoff have the stage presence and focus to cut through the conceit and hold our attention. (Also in the cast is Sheila Regan, a friend of mine and a frequent writer for the Daily Planet.)
The bare-bones in-rehearsal approach to theater can be done very well. Louis Malle’s compelling 1994 film Vanya on 42 Street captures a forceful workshop reading of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. There, though, the process is hidden from the viewer—Wallace Shawn doesn’t forget any lines, and Andre Gregory doesn’t appear to coach Julianne Moore. Incorporating the process into this staging of Macbeth is an ambitious idea, but since this production neither engages the audience in the process nor uses scripted moments of “process” to illuminating artificial effect, it cuts itself off at the knees.