Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Two directors transform ‘They fight’ into complex stagecraft in ‘Macbeth’

Aaron Posner, left and Teller
     Though known for writing lengthy soliloquies, William Shakespeare does not offer a lot of guidance with his description of the dramatic business before the last scene of “Macbeth”:
     “They fight.”
     Not much to go on. Which is why plays have a director or, in the case of the upcoming production of “Macbeth” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, two directors: Aaron Posner and Teller, the silent half of the popular Penn & Teller magical duo.
     “We’re going to take it from toward the end of the fight,” said Posner, during a rehearsal last week.
     No need for a spoiler alert with Shakespeare. But the directors asked that I not reveal any surprises, of which there are many. So let’s just say Macbeth, having left a trail of butchery and betrayal at the goading of his ambitious wife, is about to get his due.
     “You’re now completely surrounded by all these people,” Teller said to Ian Merrill Peakes, who plays Macbeth. “And that’s when we go to the blackout.”
     If your reaction to the above is “He speaks?” you’re not alone. Everyone I mentioned meeting Teller said the exact same thing, even though that’s like wondering how NBA star Chris Paul gets along with his insurance selling brother, Cliff. It’s an act, one he’ll happily expound upon.
     “I think people really enjoy the idea of somebody living his life without talking,” Teller said. “That’s a really cool thing to think about. Because, when you take away talk, there’s so much you add. My experience as a performer on stage is that when you don’t talk there’s a tremendous intimacy with the audience. I think people enjoy that idea and like playing with it. People who talk to me will later say, ‘Oh yeah, he never talks.’ It’s not stupidity, it’s conspiracy; they’re conspiring with me and I’m conspiring with them to help make that idea come to life. We think there so much power in speech, but theres so much power in stillness.”

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  1. Maybe 20 years ago, I saw Penn & Teller at the Schubert [now named after some bank] & when we left the theater, there were Penn & Teller, behind a cart on the Monroe St. sidewalk, hawking their merchandise & signing our programs. Teller was talking up a storm out there, so that's when I knew he only was silent on stage.

  2. The importance of non-verbal sounds in advancing dramatic actions has been explored before in connection with that play. In a famous 1865 essay, Thomas De Quincy noted that the knocking on the gate following the murder of Duncan signaled a shift in mood that took us from the dark, homicidal world inhabited by the power-obsessed Macbeth and his lady wife to the world of everyday life.


    1. Of course, the drunken gatekeeper's responses to the knocking rather changed the mood as well.


  3. Love that picture. In Pendennis by Thackeray, the title character falls in love with an actress who plays in just such a country theater, where the audience is so close to the action that actors can emote towards select persons in the boxes.


  4. This should be a very interesting production, I'd love to see it. One question, and this might be silly but anyway, are they still superstitious about saying the name Macbeth? One of the funniest Blackadder episodes, Sense and Senility, dealt with the curse and their version of a cleansing ritual. "Hot potato, orchestra scores, Puck will make amends!" *tweak noses* Were they calling it the Scottish Play?

  5. Life is but a walking shadow 🕵


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