by Paul Briggs
It's 8 p.m. Saturday night, April 4, 1992. The witching hour has begun.
The theater is enormous, but tonight it's packed almost to standing-room-only — mainly with students and parents, of course, but also with those in the community with nothing else to do, or those with a taste for high school drama productions. The crowd sounds excited, from what I can tell. My mom's out there somewhere tonight, along with her live-in nurse Seth and his longtime companion Max. Our sound system is playing Mussorgsky's "Night On Bald Mountain." (For those of you who aren't too music-literate… ever see Disney's original Fantasia? Remember the part where the bigass horned demon comes out of the mountaintop? That's the music we're playing. It's supposed to help set the mood.)
I've checked and rechecked the equipment up on the catwalk. I'm already wearing the blue robe that covers me from neck to ankle. Under it I'm wearing the strapless red gown that goes down to just below my knee. I've got my makeup on, and a couple of nice wicked-looking dark eyebrows penciled in place. Last week I dyed my hair dark brown.
The lights go down. Six weeks of rehearsals and set building — no segregation of stagehands and actors here. One week of dress rehearsals. Thursday and Friday night are already done. One Sunday matinee and three more nights to go… after tonight.
From the greenroom doorway I can hear them wheel the backdrops into place. I helped design them — each is basically a row of panels in a frame. These panels can be rotated in place — one side is painted to look like woods and/or heather, the other to look like stonework. This cut in half the amount of building we had to do, and, with a little furniture, let us create whatever we needed in the way of throne rooms, woods, corridors, banqueting halls and bedrooms. (Only you have to make sure to rotate all the panels, or the audience will wonder why there's a field of heather in the middle of the wall.) The dry ice machines are whipping up a nice thick fog bank.
The voices begin before the lights come up. "When shall we three meet again — in thunder, lightning or in rain?" And right away I know we're in trouble.
The audience is laughing. Why? What's so funny?
Okay, I think I get it. They don't realize we did that on purpose. They think the lighting guys screwed up. But the lights are coming up, greenish and hideous, on our three girls in black robes, scraggly white wigs and crone makeup, and they're still laughing. It's not like we used black light or had them wear Halloween masks or anything over the top like that.
I look at Mrs. Griffin, our director.
"Something the matter?"
"Yeah, that happens sometimes. Some audiences, you show them something that's supposed to scare them and they take it at face value. Others…" She gestures out the door. About this time the witches are doing their "fair is foul" bit and disappearing, which they do by opening the panels and stepping between them. At the time it seemed like it wouldn't be any more fake-looking than having them disappear through a trapdoor (if we had a trapdoor), and since everyone else treats the backdrops like barriers, having the witches go through them would convey their occult nature. Listening to the audience whoop with merriment, I'm suddenly having second thoughts.
They laugh at the start of the next scene, but that's not such a surprise. The two main characters in the next scene are Duncan and the Bloody Sergeant.
The problem isn't Duncan. Brian is no budding Olivier, but he can do a pretty fair imitation of the mannerisms of a much older man without going over the top, and has a nice resounding bass voice suitable for a king, so if you put a gray wig and beard on him he doesn't look completely ridiculous. Unless, of course, you just take one look at this fresh-faced kid in a gray wig, beard and old-guy makeup and start laughing right there, like the audience is doing now. Okay, maybe the problem is Duncan.
But if it weren't Duncan, it would be Gregg, our Bloody Sergeant. He's one of the two or three funniest guys in the school, with impeccable comic timing, and even though he isn't supposed to be playing a comic character here, some of that gets into his work. He's basically describing Macbeth and Banquo kicking all kinds of ass, and as he's describing this he's trying not to collapse from the pain and blood loss of his wounds. Naturally, Gregg does his best to imitate Macbeth and Banquo's fighting moves, but keeps doubling over, wincing. Meanwhile, the king and all the other guys react to him like they were watching their team win the Super Bowl. The audience is having a ball.
Standing right behind me is somebody who, judging from the expression on his face, is having a ball gnawed on by a chipmunk.
"I can't go out there," says Garthie. I've heard of people looking kind of green, but I've never actually seen it happen, until now. As you've probably already guessed, this is our Macbeth.
Let me take just a moment to describe him for you. His name is Garth Stout Jr., and we generally call him Garthie. (Sometimes, in the spirit of gentle mockery, we refer to Garthie Stout as "Barf-Me-Out.") He's maybe half an inch shy of six feet tall, skinny, with dark blond hair, ascetic good looks and the langourous voice of a lovelorn poet. If he sounds a bit miscast, well, that was my first impression too — and my second and third impressions, come to think of it. Garthie would've made a kickass Romeo, or even a passable Hamlet if he could have just remembered his lines, but as Macbeth he seems kind of weak and unmotivated. It's a bit disorienting to first hear him described as a great warrior who charges into battle and slays his enemies, and then to see this guy who looks like just taking a plastic bag away from a toddler would wear him out for the day.
Oh, and it doesn't help that he can't read Shakespeare. By that I mean that some people can pick up a copy of, say, Macbeth, read it and get a general sense of what's happening in a given scene even if one word in five is either oddly used or unfamiliar, and other people can't, and Garthie is one of those who can't. So not only did the poor guy have to memorize his lines, he had to learn and memorize the meaning of those lines, and very often he garbles them beyond recognition when he tries to say them.
So although I didn't say anything, I thought at first Mrs. Griffin was out of her mind for casting Barf-Me-Out as Macbeth. However, as I watched rehearsals unfold I noticed that she had cast the play in such an ingenious way that there was almost always somebody on stage who knew what he was doing.
Speaking of people who know what they're doing, here comes Tony, our Banquo. About an inch taller than Garthie, equally skinny, with dark hair and a mustache he's had since thirteen (I'm not kidding). But as he approaches, he starts looking nervous too. This we don't need.
"No way," whines Garthie. "Not tonight. This is… what was I thinking…"
"You can do it!" says Mrs. Griffin. "Come on! You've done this twice before now! What's the problem?"
"They won't be when you get done with them."
(That might be the wrong tack to take. Garthie knows this is a long way from being the definitive interpretation of Macbeth he's giving them here.) About now the worthy Thane of Ross comes onstage, which means we're running out of time here. Maybe we shouldn't have cut the bit about the sailor's wife.
"They're all gonna laugh at me," he whines.
"Let them!" I snap. "What the fuck do you care what they think?" Before Mrs. Griffin can reprimand my language, I add, "They'll laugh at me too, me and my 'come to my woman's breasts' thing — you think I care?"
"Well… that's… 'cause you're a psycho."
Mrs. Griffin gasps. My face turns red at this, but that's all the abashment I show.
"Well, thank God somebody around here is," I say. "Now get your ass out there."
"Go for it, guys," says Mrs. Griffin, the polar opposite from me, but equally encouraging. She also gives him a look, like she's going to have a talk with him later on about insulting his fellow actors.
"Let's go," says Tony. While they're leaving, I think I'll tell you how we dressed them. For Macbeth, we took one of the leftover kilts from Brigadoon, and added to it a helmet and "chain-mail" shirt from Camelot. Then we made a lightweight wooden shield, painted it black and strapped it to his arm, and gave him boots and a sword to go with it.
Also, Mrs. Garrison (mother of Peter and Paul Garrison, who play Malcolm and Donalbain) loaned us an old wolf-skin rug she had in the attic, which was too valuable to throw away but too hideous to put in the living room. At first, he tried to wear it in such a way that his face would be framed by the wolf's mouth, but the thing about timber wolves is, they aren't actually that big. When he put it on like that, you could see either his eyes and nose or his nose and mouth sticking out, but not his whole face. So we found a big cheesy medallion, sewed it to the hind legs, and now he's wearing it like a cape with the wolf's head hanging over his butt and the tail draped artfully over his right shoulder. (We had so much fun with that wolf skin. "LASSIE! NOOOOOOOOOOO!")
Banquo's outfit is simpler — helmet, shield, sword and tunic and kilt, which is in the Royal Stewart tartan for historical reasons which I won't go into here, because what the audience mostly notices is Tony's hairy, hairy legs. (And I'm not actually a psychopath, by the way. I checked. Not that I give a shit what you think of me, either, but just so you stay informed.)
The time has come. The stage grows dark. More dry ice comes hissing out of the machines, and oh Jesus, the audience is even laughing at that. Maybe I was too hard on Garthie.
The lights come back up, our two mighty warriors march onstage, and… the audience laughs louder than ever just at the sight of them. Those who aren't laughing are letting out wolf whistles, so I'm guessing they're reacting to Banquo's legs. (I know I already mentioned how hairy they are, but really, it looks like he's wearing bearskin tights.)
"So fair and… foul and… foul and fair a day I've never seen," says Garthie.
Shit. The first act is always Garthie's hardest, but he shouldn't be cracking up with his first line. Thank God the witches come on at this point, so the audience can laugh at them instead.
Thing is, Garthie isn't that bad with dialogue. It's monologues that give him problems. He gets through the scene with the witches okay, and when Ross and Angus come to give him the good news he manages, but when he has to do that little aside bit…
"This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill… and… um… it can't be good either. If ill… why hath it given me earnest success… um… I am Thane of Cawdor! If good… why do I have a suggestion… who doth fix my horrid hair… horrid image doth unfix my hair… and make my seated heart knock on my ribs, against the use of nature? Present fears… are… less than horrible… my… imaginings… my thought… my murder… my single state — my thought whose murder yet is but fantastical… my… my…"
"Look how our partner's rapt!" blurts out Banquo. Thank you, Tony. After that, the rest of the scene goes okay, although when Macbeth says "give me your favor; my dull brain was wrought with things forgotten" the audience completely cracks up. And by the way, about now it's time for me to find my scroll and get into position.
I get behind the curtain and backdrop, just in time to hear Duncan say to Banquo, "… let me infold thee and hold thee to my heart." (Macbeth gets Cawdor and Banquo gets a hug. Oh well, I suppose they don't have spare thanedoms for everybody.) Duncan announces that he's declaring Malcolm his heir. Macbeth does his aside "Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires" and, mirabile friggin' dictu, he gets it right. And here's where I come in.
First, more dry ice while the stage parts are being rearranged. Then the stage lights come up, blue-gray and dim to suggest a foggy highland morning, on me standing in front of a stone wall and some shrubs (a courtyard, obviously) holding open a scroll and reading it aloud, in tones of wonder. A little candle in a candle-holder is sitting on a small wrought-iron table beside me, giving me a bit more light to read by and giving the audience a slightly better look at my face.
"'They met me in the day of success," I say just as the lights begin to come up, "and I have learned by the perfectest report they have…'" — slowly and carefully, I read this next part — "'…more in them than mortal knowledge.'"
I pause a moment to let this sink in, then continue.
"'When I burned in desire to question them further, they… made themselves air, into which they… vanished.'"
Whoa. Another, longer, pause. At this point I don't know what to think. It's as if a friend whose sense and judgment I've always found as reliable as anyone's is telling me he was abducted by aliens last night.
"'Whiles I stood rapt in the wonder of it'" — no kidding — "'came missives from the King, who'" — here I get a look like I just got a new car for my birthday — "'all-hailed me Thane of Cawdor!'"
(Mrs. Griffin assured me that Scottish gentlewomen of this time did not pump their fists in the air and shout "YES!," so I had to restrain myself, but I made sure the sentiment was clearly there. Now I read a little faster, in case there's any more good stuff.)
"'By which title, before, these weird sisters saluted me and referred me to the coming on of time with…" and here I look astonished. And suspicious. I glance around, then move a little further away from the wall and closer to the audience.
"'Hail… King that shalt be!'"
I take deep breaths, deliberately keeping my cool. Then I quickly read through the rest — "'This have I thought good to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it to thy heart, and farewell.'"
I carefully roll the letter up and tuck it into my purse. Then I open the locket around my neck and look at one of the pictures inside, trusting that the audience can figure out that this is a picture of Macbeth. I take just a moment to think, then…
"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor," I say, then, in tones of absolute resolution, "and shalt be what thou art promised."
Then a hissing sigh, like I've just thought of something that could wreck the whole deal. "Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o' the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way."
Now it's like I'm already arguing with him — and, to a certain extent, with myself. "Thou wouldst be great; art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it! What thou wouldst highly, that wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, and yet wouldst wrongly win! Thou'ldst have, great Glamis, that which cries, 'Thus thou must do, if thou have it!'" It's like I'm saying, "Don't you get it, dumbass? If you want things you're not supposed to have, you have to do things you're not supposed to do!" (Like everyone else, I had a few bits of my lines cut for time.)
Now I'm calmer, but still determined — "Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round… which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crown'd withal."
Just as I'm putting away the locket, in comes a messenger at a dead run, panting and out of breath. (In case you're interested, this is the "cream-faced loon" who will, in the fifth act, be giving Macbeth the bad news about the English soldiers and the trees.)
"What is your tidings?"
"The King [gasp] comes here [pant, pant] tonight," he says hoarsely.
Holy shit. My jaw drops open. For a moment I'm too stunned to speak. Then I gesture offstage, and my serving woman comes on. I point her at him.
"Thou'rt mad to say it!" I say. "Is not thy master with him?"
"So please you [gasp] it is true [gasp] our Thane [wheeze] is… coming…" and he just about collapses into the arms of the serving woman.
"Give him tending," I tell her. "He brings great news."
As soon as they're offstage, I say to myself, "The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements." I'm actually a bit shaken by this. It's like a sign — the guy who tells me the king is coming here is out of breath.
This next part was tricky. I knew that if I just started declaiming it, out loud, the audience would fall out of their seats laughing. I mean, really. "Come to my woman's breasts and take my milk for gall"?!? But at the same time, it was a well-known part of the play and they had to hear me say it. (My first thought was to crouch on one of the walls like a gargoyle, but as Mrs. Griffin said to me, over and over again, "She's Lady Macbeth. She's a lady. She's lady-like." Plus there was some question about whether any of the walls would bear even my negligible weight.)
So… first I snuff the candle. Just to make sure I have the audience's attention, I do this with my fingers instead of blowing it out like a normal person. (I had to assure Mrs. Griffin that I could do this without hurting myself. It helps to have a couple of well-placed calluses on your fingers.) Funny how you never notice the smell of the smoke until the flame goes out.
Then the stage goes dark except for a single deep blue spotlight, focused on me. I grip my upper arms, hugging myself, breathing deeply. I lift my head, grit my teeth and hiss — "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!" Instead of shouting, I'm speaking in a whisper, but a very loud whisper aimed like sonar at that nice acoustic ceiling. (We checked, and if the room was quiet enough you could hear me very clearly from everywhere in the theater.) It's as though I'm saying to myself, "Get it together, you! Are you a deranged murdering nutjob, or are you just a big pussy? It's time to shit or get off the pot, girlfriend!"
"Make thick my blood," I continue, "stop up the access and passage to remorse! Come to my woman's breasts and take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, wherever in your sightless substances you wait on nature's mischief!" (And can you believe it? No one is laughing. Of course, as you've heard, I have a bit of a reputation for being of uncertain sanity, so they might not be too sure this is an act.)
"Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell that my keen knife see not the wound it makes nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry, 'Hold, hold!'" (According to the reviewer in the county paper, "Another senior, Sandra Symcox, delivers a terrifying performance as Lady Macbeth, the dark angel who drives her husband to his destruction." Of course, that same reviewer also called Garthie's performance "soulful" and "tormented." But then, if his performance isn't "tormented" I don't know what is.)
Suddenly, the stage lights go up, brighter and more pink and yellow than they were before — the sun has burned off the fog. And Macbeth doth come. I stride up to him, beaming, arms open wide. (My first thought was to run at him and leap into his arms, but Mrs. Griffin kept saying, "Lady Macbeth. Think lady-like. Think dignified. Think stately." Also, the first time I tried this I knocked him down. In any case, the transition between my demonic monologue and my "Hi, honey!" greeting of my husband proved sudden and jarring enough to get a nervous laugh out of the audience.) I wrap my arms around his neck and pull his head down to where I can kiss it.
"Great Glamis!" I say, then kiss him on the cheek. "Worthy Cawdor!" I say, then kiss him on the other cheek. "Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!" I say, then jam his mouth against mine for a looooong moment while the audience whistles its approval. (He looks really awkward and scared while I'm doing all this. As you may have guessed, there wasn't any backstage romance going on between me and Garthie.)
I take him by the hand and lead him upstage, into my chamber.
"Thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present," I gush, "and I feel now the future in the instant." Macbeth looks worried that I'm about to kiss him again.
"My dearest love, Duncan comes here tonight."
"And when goes hence?"
"Tomorrow… as he… proposes."
"O, never shall sun that morrow see!" I say flatly. (See, I'm trying to get him to go along with it by acting like it's already decided. This sometimes works in real life, too.)
Macbeth looks stunned when I say this (oh, good — Barf-Me-Out remembered to look stunned) so I say, "Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters," as if trying to tell him discreetly that his fly is unzipped. I lead him to a mirror.
"To beguile the time," I explain, "look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue." I'm like the acting coach he never had.
"Look like the innocent flower," I say in dreamy, angelic tones — "but be the serpent under it," I hiss. (This sudden shift in tone never fails to make him flinch, as if I'm about to go for his throat. And I see the audience has gotten its sense of humor back.)
"He that's coming must be… provided for," I say, "and you shall put this night's great business into my dispatch, which shall to all our nights and days to come give solely sovereign sway and masterdom."
"We will speak further," he says lamely.
"Only look up clear," I say. "To alter favor ever is to fear. Leave all the rest to me." And the stage goes dark.
The next scene is set in more or less the same place, but at a different time of day, conveyed by a change in the lighting. There's a lovely exchange between Duncan and Banquo, in which Duncan talks about how nice it is here and how sweet the air smells, and Banquo calls his attention to "the temple-haunting martlet," which apparently nests all over Macbeth's castle. Tony isn't what you'd call an A-list actor, but once we told him the meaning of his lines, he got it. Here he sounds like a professional bird-watcher. (There's a bunch of other guys in this scene, but none of them have any lines.)
Meanwhile, behind one of the walls, Beth, my gentlewoman servant in the play and my backstage assistant in reality, is quickly but carefully doing my hair. Irene Coleman, our Lady Macduff, is doing my nails. (Irene's a good actress, and a lot better-looking than me. She would have been Lady Macbeth if she could have convincingly played a villain.)
"See, see, our honor'd hostess!" says Duncan as I make my entrance. I bow before him in a way that would really get the audience's attention if I had any cleavage to speak of. Alas the day.
"All our service in every point twice done, and then done double, were poor and single business to contend against those honors deep and broad wherewith your Majesty loads our house," I purr, with a smile on my face that does reach my eyes, thank you very much, which actually makes it scarier because the audience already knows I've got it in for him. They laugh, but, again, a little nervously.
"Fair and noble hostess," says Duncan, "we are your guest tonight. Give me your hand; conduct me to mine host." I do so. I wonder if this will be the night that the mounting tension of this scene causes somebody in the audience to shout "Don't go in there! It's a trap!" As it turns out, no.
Now for the next scene, inside the castle at night. One end of the stage is taken up by partygoers — Duncan and his sons, Banquo, Lennox and the rest — standing around holding plates and goblets and pretending to gossip. My servant goes around pretending to refill everyone's goblets, and at one point goes offstage and returns with a tray of little cheese things. I go around with a big friendly smile, pretend to chat with everybody and make sure they've got all they want, tousle Donalbain's hair and pinch his cheek. (Peter and Paul Garrison are twins, but not identical ones. Peter's short and fat, while Paul is shorter and fatter.) All this is silent, because on the other end of the stage, bathed in a pitiless white spotlight, is Macbeth, fucking up his big speech.
"If it were done when 'tis done… then… 'twere well it were… done… quickly," he says, and it could not be more obvious that he has no clue what he just said. "If the assassination could… travel up the consequences and … catch with his success… and… be the be-all and the end-all here… we'll jump the life to come." Some lines were cut in the editing of the script, others he's just muffed.
"But in this case… we still have judgement here, but we teach bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague inventors. This… even-handed justice commands the ingredients of our poisoned… um… thing to our own lips." (Barf-Me-Out has a bit of a mental block regarding the word "chalice.") At this point there is actually kind of a pitying note in the laughter of the audience.
"First, I am his kinsman and his subject… and then… I am his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself." And here's where it starts to go downhill.
About the time Macbeth is trying to remember whether Duncan's virtues are supposed to be pleading like angels or naked new-born babes, I take my leave of the merry gathering, shut an imaginary door and stomp across the stage to find my husband and bring him back to the party where he's supposed to be, and, incidentally, rescue Garthie before he announces to the audience that he has no prick to spur the sides of his attempt, as he did during a dress rehearsal.
"How now, what news?" he says, looking distinctly relieved to see me. (As you've noticed, it's monologues, not dialogue, that give him problems.)
"He has almost supp'd. Why have you left the chamber?"
"Has he asked for me?"
"Know you not he has?"
"We will proceed no further in this business," he says. "He hath honor'd me of late, and I've got golden opinions of all sorts of people, which should be worn now while they're in their newest gloss, not cast aside so soon." He still doesn't really know what he's saying, but at least he's back on track, more or less.
Suddenly, I'm in his face and furious. "Was the hope drunk wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale at what it did so freely? From this time such I account thy love." On that line, I turn away from him, and cross my arms, as if waiting for him to insist that he still loves me, honest.
But he just stands there staring at the floor, so I turn a little and say to him, calmly but cuttingly, "Art thou afear'd to be the same in thine own act and valor as thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem'st the ornament of life and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would' like the poor cat i' the adage?"
"Prithee, peace," he whines, slumping into a chair. "I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none."
I'm not having any. "What beast was't, then, that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man! And, to be more than what you were, you would be… so much more the man." This speech is tricky to do — cajoling, cold-blooded and listen-I'm-trying-to-be-reasonable all at the same time. A big, tall woman could indulge in histrionics and scare the crap out of the audience that way. If I tried that, I'd just look like a little girl throwing a tantrum.
"Nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both. They have made themselves — and that their fitness now does unmake you." I cradle his head in my left arm, put my right hand under his chin and gently make him look me in the eye.
"I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me… I would, while it was smiling in my face, have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums and dash'd the brains out had I so sworn as you have done to this." The audience's little noises of revulsion are music to my ears. I'm actually having an impact here.
"If… we should… fail?" Macbeth's voice sounds like it's coming from a mouth and throat as dry as King Tut's. Nice touch.
"We fail," I reply flatly. "But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we'll not fail. When Duncan is asleep, his two chamberlains will I with wine and wassail so convince that memory, the warder of the brain, shall be a fume. When in swinish sleep their drenched natures lie as in a death, what cannot you and I perform upon the unguarded Duncan? What not put upon his spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt of our great quell?"
"Bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males," says Macbeth. "Will it not be perceived… when we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two of… his chamber and used their own daggers, that they have done it?"
I smile. "Who dares receive it other — as we shall make our griefs and clamor roar upon his death?"
"I am settled, and bend each corporal to this terrible feat. Away, and mock the time with fairest show: False face must hide what the false heart doth know."
Now in the next scene — the big "Is this a dagger which I see before me" scene — I don't have any lines. However, the way we staged it, there was once again silent business going on at one end of the stage while Macbeth was at the other end. While Banquo talks about husbandry in heaven, and he and Macbeth do their little one-of-these-days-let's-talk-about-this-whole-prophecy-thing scene, I come up to the two guards on either side of the stage right exit with a bottle of wine and three goblets. I give one to each of them, pour them each a generous measure of… okay, it was Kool-Aid… and, oh, darn it! I poured out the last of the bottle filling up the second guard's goblet! There isn't any left for me! Not to worry, I've got a second bottle with which I fill my own goblet. We raise our goblets in toast of something or other, drink it all down, and then, for some reason, the two guards collapse on the floor. I take out a key, mime unlocking a door, then take their daggers and step through it. After a long moment, I return with two still-sheathed, unbloodied daggers (looking very embarrassed) and lay them on the floor, pointing to the "door" in case my husband forgets what he's here to do. Lastly, I put the key in one of the guards' hands. I leave just in time for Macbeth to come along and start seeing things.
The next scene is me in my bedroom, wearing a nightgown (Garthie, God bless him, took so long staring at that dagger and trying to remember what he was supposed to say about it that I actually had time to change out of the red dress, which was getting to be kind of uncomfortable) and scrubbing off the lipstick, but way too keyed up to go to bed. "That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold," I say. "What hath quench'd them hath given me fire."
An owl hoots. (The theater has a pretty good sound system.) The noise startles me. "Hark! Peace!… It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman, which gives the stern'st good night." (Whew.)
I look through the doorway. "He is about it," I reassure myself. "The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets, that death and nature do contend about them, whether they live or die."
My husband's voice comes from offstage, way too loud. "Who's there what, ho!"
I start to panic. "Alack, I am afraid they have awaked and 'tis not done — the attempt and not the deed confounds us!"
Steady, girl. "Hark! I laid their daggers ready; he could not miss 'em." I grit my teeth and mutter, "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done't."
In comes Macbeth, looking as shellshocked as Garthie can, carrying a bloody dagger in each hand. "My husband!"
"I have done the deed," he says blankly. (YES!) "Didst thou not hear a noise?"
"I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?"
"As I descended?"
"Ay." (What is his problem?)
"Hark! Who lies i' the second chamber?"
"Donalbain." (Um, why do you ask?)
He looks at the knives. "This is a sorry sight," he says, as if these are really pathetic knives. (I tried explaining to Garthie that "a sorry sight" didn't necessarily mean then what it does now, but it didn't do any good. It was a line he could figure out how to say by himself, and that was enough.) "A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight," I reply.
"There's one laughed in his sleep, and one cried, 'Murder!' So they did wake each other." Oh shit. "I stood and heard them, but they'd said their prayers and dressed them again to sleep." Whew.
"There are two lodged together," I say matter-of-factly.
"One cried, 'God bless us!' and 'Amen' said the other, as if they'd seen me with these hangman's hands. I could not say 'Amen' when they said, 'God bless us!'"
Crap. He's already losing it. "Consider it not so deeply."
"But wherefore could not I pronounce 'Amen'? I had most need of blessing, and 'Amen' stuck in my throat."
"These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad."
"I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!' The innocent sleep… that… knits up the ravel'd care of sleave… the death of… each day's life… sore labor's bath… ballum [he didn't know how to pronounce "balm," so he pronounced it to rhyme with "Gollum"] of hurt minds… great nature's second course… chief nourisher in life's feast—"
"What do you mean?" I'm staring in horror. What if he loses it like this in front of other people?
"Still it cried, 'Sleep no more!' to all the house; 'Glamis hath murder'd sleep… and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more!'" He's waving the daggers in the air in a way that would make a normal person back away, but as I hope it's clear by now, Lady Macbeth is not a normal person. I grab him by the shoulders and look him in the eye.
"Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy Thane, you do unbend your noble strength, to think so brainsickly of things! Go, get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand!" About now I notice the knives. "Why did you bring these daggers from the place?" (The audience chuckles at this.) "They must lie there! Go carry them, and smear the sleepy grooms with blood."
"I'll go no more. I am afraid to think what I have done; look on it again I dare not."
"Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers." I pry the hilts from his hands. "The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures; 'tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil. If he do bleed, I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt." I stride off, leaving Macbeth to start going batshit again as soon as the knocking starts. I stay offstage long enough to make it plausible for Lady Macbeth to plant the evidence, and also long enough to give Garthie a chance to say "multitudinous" and "incarnadine," which he always pronounces "incarradine."
After dabbing a little stage blood on my hands, I return. "My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white," I say, washing my hands in the basin on the table and giving my weak-ass punk bitch of a husband a serious dirty look.
More knocking at the door. "I hear knocking at the south entry. Retire we to our chamber." (We're already in our chamber, so this line doesn't really make sense, but it would make even less sense for us to be standing out in the middle of the hallway talking about what we just did.)
"A little water clears us of this deed," I say, showing him my clean-washed hands. "How easy is it then! Your constancy hath left you unattended." I grab his hands by the wrist and scrub them with a wet cloth.
More knocking. "Hark, more knocking. Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us and show us to be watchers." I lean over and say, very sharply, in his ear, "Be not lost so poorly in your thoughts."
"To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself," Macbeth whines. Then, as the stage goes dark and the knocking continues, "Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!"
Next comes the porter scene. Our porter is none other than Gregg Apple, also the Bloody Sergeant. The audience always laughs as the hammering at the door offstage gets louder and louder, while Gregg does his schtick. Tonight, of course, he practically has them rolling in the aisles.
Oh — I haven't told you about Macduff and his sword, have I? Well, let me correct that now.
To begin with, the sword. We had all the stage swords and fencing gear we needed in storage, of course, but Mrs. Griffin wanted something more. She wanted at least the main characters to be packing claymores. That was more than the stagehands could make, so the high school shop was given the job. A couple of the more ambitious students took it on as a senior project.
Well, somehow or other there was a miscommunication between her and the shop. I was the one sent to pick up the swords, and when I got there — this was ten days before opening night — I found that they had only made one sword.
But what a sword it was. It turns out that there are two kinds of swords that go by the name of "claymore." Mrs. Griffin had been thinking of the more familiar kind, the kind that had a sort of basket thing on the hilt to protect the hand. But what the guys in shop had made for us was a medieval claymore, a much larger and heavier weapon with a straight double-edged blade, V-shaped crossbars, and a long two-handed grip with a knob on the end.
From blade-tip to pommel, the sword was an even five feet long, including a 42-inch blade. This blade was punched out of steel plate, then chromed. Even though it had neither an edge nor a point, you could seriously hurt someone if you hit them with it. The hilt was black lacquered wood with chrome trim and pommel.
The only flaw — well, the only flaw I found — was that the balance was all wrong. All the weight was in the blade. When I lifted it, I had to hold it straight up and down to keep it from trying to pull itself out of my hands. They fixed this by unscrewing the pommel and stuffing it with lead weights wrapped in cotton.
But of course that made it even heavier, to the point where although I could still lift it, I couldn't swing it with any real control. As it turned out, neither could Garthie. As it turned out, nobody could except Dave, our Macduff.
Dave is maybe half an inch shorter than Garthie, but about fifty pounds heavier, all of it muscle, bone and sinew. He looks weirdly like something off a Nazi recruiting poster — crew-cut light blond hair, blue eyes, and a jaw like Caspar van Dien's, so square you could use it in carpentry. His voice is almost as deep as Brian's, only rough and gravelly. He's another one who can really act. We didn't think to ask for a scabbard for this monster sword, so he's holding it in place with a leather strap on his left shoulder. (He won't be drawing or "sheathing" the sword onstage, because his arms aren't quite long enough. Also, in the unlikely event that you're interested, what he's wearing is actually a MacDuff tartan.)
Anyway, Macduff, Lennox and the Porter have their little scene, in which Macduff is rather obviously trying very hard to keep his temper, stay polite, and not kill the Porter for making him hammer on the door that long. Enter Macbeth. When Macduff asks, "Is the King stirring, worthy Thane?" the audience laughs.
At first, we were going to cut Lennox's speech about chimneys blowing down and lamentings heard i' the air, but then we realized that without it, all we had was Macbeth and Lennox standing around waiting for Macduff to come back and start hollering. So we left it in, much to the delight of Eric, our Lennox and one of the most insufferable hams I have ever seen.
Then, of course — "O horror, horror, horror!" Macduff has gone off to wake the king, and has now found that doing so would be beyond even his strength. We did cut a few bits of his lines, the ones that sounded too much like poetry ("As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites," etc., etc.) because they distracted from the urgency of the situation. (We hate to second-guess ol' Bill, but sometimes we just don't have a choice.) The bell rings. Enter me, in my nightie, looking innocent and scared.
"What's the business, that such a hideous trumpet calls to parley the sleepers of the house?" I say. "Speak, speak!"
Next comes kind of a goofy bit. Macduff turns to me and says, "O gentle lady, 'tis not for you to hear what I can speak: the repetition in a woman's ear would murder as it fell." This gets a laugh out of the audience — he's treating me like some delicate flower — but not as big a laugh as him turning around, seeing Banquo, and saying "O Banquo, Banquo! Our royal master's murder'd" like I'm not standing right there listening.
"Woe, alas! What, in our house?" I say, taking care not to pronounce it "Whoa" as in "Whoa, dude."
Here comes Macbeth again, holding a bloody sword and backed up by Ross and Lennox. Among other things, we learn that Macbeth has, more or less on the spur of the moment, killed the two guards. I'm impressed — but before anyone can catch me looking impressed, I make a great show of fainting into the arms of my serving woman. She and the Cream-Faced Loon carry me out, and that's it for me in this scene. However, those of you out in the audience get to watch Malcolm and Donalbain planning their escape. I saw them in rehearsal. They looked adorable in a dark sort of way, like a couple of Pillsbury Doughboys who've just heard that the Quaker Oats guy was found bludgeoned to death with a rolling pin, and they're next.
In the next few scenes I wear a loose gown of black silk. I have only one line in Act III, Scene 1 ("If he had been forgotten, it had been as a gap in our great feast and all-thing unbecoming") and then off I go, along with everyone except Macbeth and Cream Face, who then goes off to let in the murderers.
Now up to this point Garthie's performance has been… I think we can fairly use the word "godawful." He gets a bit better in this next speech.
"To be thus is nothing but to be safely thus," he begins. "Our fears in Banquo stick deep. 'Tis much he dares, and… he hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor to act in safety. There's none but he whose being I do fear. He said to the sisters… when first they put the name of King on me… to speak to him. They hail'd him father to a line of kings. Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown."
Now he actually sounds angry — well, peevish, anyway — which is how he's supposed to sound. "If it be so, for Banquo's issues have I defiled my mind, for them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd, put… something in the vessels of my peace…" ("Rancors" is another word he has a blind spot about.) "And I gave away my jewels to the common enemy of man just to make them kings — the seeds of Banquo's kings! Come, Fate, and champion me to the uttermence! Who's there?"
The murderers are played by the same guys who play two guards and Angus. We cut the scene with them down to Macbeth handing each of them a bag of gold and whispering in their ears. (Originally Macbeth was supposed to have convinced them all that Banquo was their mortal enemy, but come on. They're assassins. They don't need a grudge, they just need a paycheck.) Off they go.
"It is concluded," says Macbeth sadly. "Banquo, thy soul's flight, if it find heaven, must find it out tonight."
In the next scene, I'm pacing in the corridor.
"Is Banquo gone from court?" I ask my servant.
"Ay, madam," she says, "but returns again tonight."
"Say to the King I would attend his leisure for a few words."
"Madam, I will." Off she goes.
I continue to pace. "Nought's had, all's spent, where our desire is got without content," I grumble. "'Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy."
But here comes my husband, so I stop pacing and put on my Calm, Cool and Collected face. He looks just as worried as I am.
"How now, my lord? Why do you keep alone, of sorriest fancies your companions making, using those thoughts which should indeed have died with them they think on? Things without all remedy should be without regard. What's done is done." The audience laughs at this, as people always will when they hear an ordinary cliche used in extraordinary circumstances.
"We have scorched the snake, not kill'd it," whines Macbeth. "Our poor malice remains in danger of her former tooth. But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer… where we will eat our meal in fear and sleep… in the affection of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly. Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have set to pieces… than to lie in restless… tortured… ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave; after life's fitful fever he sleeps well. Treason has done his worst; nor steel, nor poison… malice… domestic… foreign… nothing can touch him further." He sounds sad, tired and regretful, which is how he usually sounds, but now it fits.
"Come on, gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks," I purr. "Be bright and jovial among your guests tonight."
"O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!" Macbeth blurts out, and even Garthie can tell he's supposed to look pained at this. "Thou know'st that Banquo and his Fleance lives."
"But in them nature's copy's not eterne." Hint, hint.
"There's comfort yet; they are available."
"What's to be done?"
"Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest, till thou applaud the deed." (The line was actually "dearest chuck" but Garthie couldn't make himself call me "Chuck.")
Now I'm impressed. My man is actually having people whacked on his own initiative. I place my arms gently around him — I'm getting horny.
"Thou… marvelest at my words… but hold still," he says. "Things bad… begun to get strong… by being ill. So, prithee, go with me." We exeunt.
Next comes the famous Banquet Scene, the last one before the intermission. Mrs. Griffin, God love her for this, made us rehearse this one over and over and over again until we got it right, and talked us through it until everybody (and by "everybody" I mean "Garthie") knew exactly what everything meant.
"You know your own degrees — sit down, and welcome," says Macbeth to the guests, Lennox, Ross, Angus, Menteith, Caithness, the doctor, and a couple of guys (one of them's a girl, actually) who play random lords or attendants, depending on the scene. "Ourself will mingle with society and play the humble host."
There's a knocking without. I go over there, open the door, and WHOOPS it's one of the murderers. I shut the door hurriedly and gesture frantically for Macbeth to get his royal ass over here.
He goes through the door, closes it behind him, escorts the murderer as far away from the gathering as he can get and still stay onstage, and says, in a pretty good stage whisper, "There's blood upon thy face."
"'Tis Banquo's then."
"'Tis better… thee… without… than… he… um… within. Is he dispatch'd?"
"My lord, his throat is cut; that I did for him."
"Thou art the best o' the cut-throats! Yet he's good that… also did the like for Fleance. If thou did it, thou art the nonpareil."
"Most royal sir, Fleance is 'scaped."
Garthie gets Macbeth's "oh, crap" reaction to this pretty well. Eventually, of course, I have to remind him once again that it's bad form to be skulking around in the corridors when you have a roomful of guests to entertain.
"My royal lord, you do not give the cheer."
"Sweet remembrancer! Now good digestion wait on appetite, and health on both!" My man is back on form.
"May't please your Highness sit," says Lennox.
"Here had we now got our country's honor roof'd, were the graced person Banquo present," says Macbeth, "whom… may I rather… challenge for unkindness than pity for mischance!" (We had to explain to him that what this means is, "Gee, I hope he's just being rude.")
"His absence, sir," says Ross, "lays blame upon his promise. Please't your Highness to grace us with your royal company?"
Now here's where things get interesting. We have a film projector rigged up on one of the catwalks to show things on the walls when needed. We used it in the "Is this a dagger" scene to show the daggers, both regular and bloody. Now we use it to show what Macbeth is seeing when he looks at the empty chair. In order for this to work, Garthie has to keep looking at the chair, even though what he's seeing is up and to the left. God bless him, he does it. So, just as Macbeth's saying, "The table's full," the projector comes on, showing Banquo sitting at the table covered in fake blood. And if the audience were able to stop laughing for five seconds, I'm sure they'd be scared out of their wits.
"Here is a place reserved, sir," says Lennox, and it took everything but death threats to stop Eric from overacting in this scene.
"Here, my good lord." This is when Macbeth notices the ghost, and freaks. I, who never take both eyes off him anymore when he's in public, rise.
"What is't that moves your Highness?" asks Lennox.
"Which of you have done this?" Macbeth is angry and scared. Everybody's like, "Huh? Whuh?" I am already rushing to his side.
"Thou cannot say I did it! Never shake thy gory locks at me!" the king shouts to the empty chair. Now I'm starting to panic — he's fucking losing his shit right in front of everybody!
"Gentlemen, rise," says Ross. "His Highness is not well."
I turn to the guests and force myself to smile.
"Sit, worthy friends," I say. "My lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth." For some reason, the audience laughs even louder.
"Pray you, keep seat," I continue. "The fit is momentary; upon a thought he will again be well. If much you note him, you shall offend him and extend his passion. Feed, and regard him not." I make that last line sound more like a command than an entreaty.
Meanwhile, this utter waste of meat that I somehow got married to has backed halfway to the exit and collapsed on the floor. I march over there, crouch down next to him, grab him by the ears, get in his face and hiss, "Are you a man?"
"Ay, and a bold one," he whimpers, "that dares to look on that which might appall the devil." (The audience roars with laughter at this, I think because it's kind of ambiguous at this point whether he's talking about the ghost or me.)
"O proper stuff! This is the very painting of your fear! This is the air-drawn dagger [I am now openly mocking him] which you said led you to Duncan! O, these flaws and starts, impostors to true fear, would well become a woman's story at a winter's fire, authorized by her grandam! Shame itself! Why do you make such faces? When all's done, you look but on a stool!"
"Prithee! See! There! Behold! Look! Lo!" (More laughter from the audience.) "How say you? What do I care? If thou can't nod, speak too. If carnal houses and our graves must send back those we bury, our monuments shall be the maws and kites." At this point the projector turns off, and Macbeth breathes a sigh of relief.
"What, quite unmann'd in folly?" I hiss contemptuously.
"If I stand here, I saw him."
"Fie, for shame!"
"Blood hath been shed ere now, back in olden times," whines Macbeth. (The thrust of this speech, as we explained to Garthie, is "It's not like this is the first time anybody's ever committed murder. Why is the spirit world picking on me?") "Ay, and since then too, murders have been perform'd too terrible for the ear. The time used to be that when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end." (More audience laughter.) "But now they rise again, with twenty mortal murders on their crowns, and push us from our stools. This is more strange than such a murder is."
"My worthy lord, your noble friends do lack you." I am going to get him through this little get-together if it kills me — or, more likely, him.
"I do forget," he says, and turns to the guests with a ghastly smile plastered across his face. "Do not muse at me, my most worthy friends. I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing to those that know me." (More audience laughter. Well, at least they're having a good time tonight, even though technically this is supposed to be a tragedy.)
"Come, love and health to all," he says. "Then I'll sit down." He holds up his goblet.
"Give me some wine, fill it full," he says. Cream Face comes over and fills it. "I drink to the general's joy o' the whole table, and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss. Would he were here!" (The audience… do I even need to say it?) "To all and him we thirst, and all in all…" I'm finally starting to relax. Just please please please let him keep his head for the rest of the night.
Everyone stands up, holds up their goblets and says, "Our duties and the pledge," and the projector comes on, revealing that the ghost of Banquo is doing the same thing.
Macbeth does a spit-take, spraying "wine" all over the table. "Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold! Thou hath no speculation in those eyes which thou doth glare with."
Here I am in damage control mode again. "Think of this, good peers, but as a thing of custom. 'Tis no other, only it spoils the pleasure of the time."
Now he's whining at the ghost. "What man dare, I dare. Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, the arm'd rhinoceros, or the… something… tiger; take any shape but that, and my firm nerves shall never tremble. Or be alive again, and dare me to the desert with thy sword!" He draws his sword. Everyone just sort of leans away. I get up, grab him by his wrist with one hand and try to put the other one over his mouth. I know how this looks, but I can't let him blow it.
He swats my hand away. "If trembling I inhabit them, protect me the baby of a girl! Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!" Off goes the projector.
Macbeth tries to get back on track. "Why, so, it being gone, I am a man again. Pray you sit still." He smiles that fake smile again, but this time nobody's going for it.
"You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting, with most admired disorder," I say, coldly, flatly. I am now in that stage of anger which is way past shouts and reproach. When I calm down a bit and get some perspective on the whole thing, then I'll give him some hell.
"Can such things be, and overcome us like a summer's cloud, without our special wonder?" pleads Macbeth. "You make it strange to even be the disposition that I owe… when now I think you can behold such sights and keep the natural ruby of your cheeks when mine are blanch'd with fear."
"What sights, my lord?" asks Ross.
I make a shut-up-stupid gesture at Macbeth, then say to Ross, "I pray you, speak not! He grows worse and worse! Question enrages him!" At this point I'm pretty much chasing the guests out, much to the delight of the audience. "At once, good night! Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once!"
Lennox is bringing up the rear. Just as he's heading for the door, he turns (Arrrgh!) and says, "Good night, and better health attend his Majesty!"
"A KIND GOOD NIGHT TO ALL!" I shout, in case they haven't got the hint. Once they've all left, I turn to my husband and cross my arms. And here is where we put the scene break for the 15-minute intermission. As the curtain goes down and the applause goes up, I distinctly hear someone in the audience say, in a conversational tone, "Boy, is she ever gonna rip him a new one."
Now we're behind the curtain. Just him and me.
"I suck," Garthie says. "I'm sorry."
"You're actually getting better," I say. I have to work to say it in my normal tone of voice. The thing about acting is, if you play a character long enough it sort of starts to bleed into your actual personality. If you're playing Lady Macbeth, this is not a good thing. I have to fight the urge to go over there and start hissing evilly in his ear for him to be a man for once in his life.
"Really," I add. "Of course, you did kind of start at the bottom there… but you didn't let it break you down. You kept going. I actually kind of admire you for that."
"Uh… thanks… but… it's not like I had a choice. The show must go on, and all that."
"I'm sorry I called you a psycho."
"Don't mention it."
"I mean, at least you can remember your lines."
"Yeah, but you have a lot more lines."
"Yeah, but you have the whole fucking play memorized… speaking of which, I better take another look at the next act, make sure I've got it all right."
"Yeah… and we better change." (And I better go back to being mad at him.)
Technically, the next scene is supposed to still be part of Act III, Scene 4, but we decided it would work better if we moved it. So… the curtain rises on Macbeth and me in our bedroom, in our nightgowns, having obviously (I hope) not slept.
"It will have blood," moans Macbeth, lying on the bed. "They say blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak… augurs… have understood relations that have by maggot-pies and… chunks and rooks brought forth the… secrets of man of blood. What is the night?"
"Almost at odds with morning, which is which," say I, sitting by the window and looking blearily.
"How say'st thou that Macduff… denies his person on our great bidding?"
"Did you… send to him?" (You did remember to invite him, right? Only right now I wouldn't trust you to blow your own nose without getting it in your hair.)
"I hear it… By the way, there's not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fed. I will tomorrow… betimes myself to the weird sisters. More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know if… if the worst means the worst, for mine own good. I have stepped in blood so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er. Strange things I have in my head… and my hand… which must be acted or they will be scann'd."
"You lack the season of all natures, sleep," I say, getting into bed with him.
"Come, we'll to sleep," he says. "My strange self-abuse… is the… initiative fear… that wants hard use. We are yet but young indeed." I turn away from him, as if to say I hope he enjoys his strange self-abuse with the strange thing he has in his hand, because that's the only action he's getting tonight. No screwing your courage to this sticking-place, hubby. (I got a million of 'em.)
Okay, that's all you'll be seeing of me until Act V, Scene 1, but I do get to watch a few things, especially since I get to run the projector during the scene with the witches. Here are some highlights:
• In that little scene between Lennox and Angus, where they're sort of cryptically sounding each other out, Eric sounds, more than anything else, like that guy from the Monty Python skit "Wink Wink Nudge Nudge."
• The Song of the Witches is totally cool. Each witch stirs the potion with a huge ladle as she sings her part, while the other two chant in time, quietly, "double double, double double, double double toil and trouble," tossing in the ingredients as they're named and doing their witchy little dance number. The audience eats it up. (The performance, I mean, not the potion.)
• The ghosts and demons that the witches summon are brought to you by our friend the projector. The Armed Head is just a skull with a helmet on and the jaw worked by puppetry. The Bloody Child is a talking baby doll of Beth's covered in stage blood. As for the Child Crowned, that actually was my doing. I babysit for the Lovage family, and, as a favor, they let me bring in one of the school cameras and film their 18-month-old son Ian in a little purple robe, with a crown on his head and a small tree branch in his hand, babbling up a storm. At the appearance of this dread phantasm, the audience, almost as one, goes "Awwwwwww…" and giggles. I suppose it was too much to ask that they be afraid of an evil spirit that couldn't keep its fingers out of its nose for fifteen seconds. The Show of Kings is just eight guys with crowns passing in from of a blue-filtered spotlight that silhouettes them, followed by Banquo's ghost, pointing at them and hamming it up.
(All things considered, it could have been worse. Any number of things went wrong with the projector during dress rehearsals, and I had actual nightmares of something getting screwed up during a performance.)
• The scenes with Lady Macduff and son, and with Macduff, Malcolm and Ross, are perfect. The murderers bursting into this little family scene (which it really was, since they were played by Irene and her baby brother Kevin) are shocking. Dave puts serious shock and grief into his voice when Ross brings him the bad news. Even this audience doesn't laugh. (Except at the part where the little butterball Malcolm starts talking about the infinite depths of his lust.)
And now it's time for My Big Sleepwalking Scene. Steve, our Doctor and one of those guys with his face set by default on "mournful," is onstage with Beth. He's trying to draw her out on what exactly she's heard me say in my sleep, but she doesn't dare repeat that she's heard the queen babbling about murder. Steve's a good guy — not a great actor, but he knows it and doesn't try to overdo it.
And here I come, in a nightgown, with a candle in one hand and a washcloth in the other.
"How came she by that light?"
"Why, it stood by her. She has light by her continually; 'tis her command."
I set down the candle on a table, very carefully. I'm not putting out this one with my fingers, or with anything else. Right now I'm fucking scared of the dark. It has faces in it.
"You see, her eyes are open."
"Ay, but their sense is shut." (No, they don't do the thing with waving a hand in front of my eyes. Mrs. Griffin said it breaks the mood.) I scrub my hands with the washcloth, hard enough to be audible. Hard enough to hurt.
"Yet here's a spot," I say, in a deeper voice than I normally use — but not that deep, because the secret of this scene is that I'm imitating Macbeth, and Garthie is a tenor — letting my words overlap the Gentlewoman's. The audience laughs, but nervously.
"Hark, she speaks!" says the Doctor, whipping out pen and parchment.
"Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" I say, rubbing my hands angrily. Then I stop, as if hearing something. "One… two… why then 'tis time to do't." Then, looking around in terror — "hell is murky…" as if I know because I can see it.
Now, in my own voice — "Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?"
In his voice — "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
"Do you mark that?" says the Doctor in a stage whisper.
In his voice again, anguished — "The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean?"
In my own voice — "No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that. You mar all with this starting."
I'm carefully not focusing on my two friends, but out of the corner of my eye I note that both of them look like they're about to be sick. The Doctor gestures offstage. "Go to… go to…" he says, as if he can't make up his mind where she should go. Then he just says "You have known what you should not."
"She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that," says the Gentlewoman. "Heaven knows what she has known."
"Here's the smell of the blood still," I say in his voice. "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand!" Then I collapse to my knees, put my head in my hands and roar — at first in the tones of a man in agony, but halfway through it it turns into my own voice screaming. I was afraid the audience would laugh at this point, but they don't. My two friends look terrified, as if someone's likely to come running and see them listening to me.
"What a sigh is there!" says the Doctor, not even trying to take notes anymore. "The heart is sorely charged."
"I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body."
"This disease is beyond my practice," says the Doctor. But then he starts to approach me, very slowly and quietly. "Yet… I have known those which have walked in their sleep who have died holily in their beds."
I turn to him and take him by the arm. "Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale," I say, gently, in my own voice (which at this point is a bit hoarse). "I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave."
"Even so?" blurts out the Doctor, now backing away again.
"To bed, to bed; there's knocking at the gate," I say, in my own voice, tenderly leading offstage someone who isn't there. "Come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed." And at that point I'm off. I can still hear their voices, though.
"Will she go now to bed?"
"Directly." There's a long pause after this.
"I think, but dare not speak." Another long pause, then… "Foul… whisperings… are abroad… Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. More needs she the divine than the physician. Look after her… remove from her the means of all annoyance… God, God, forgive us all!" (Yeah, Steve kind of rearranged his speech a bit, but I think he actually improved it.)
"Good night, good doctor." And when next we hear of me, it's the Doctor telling Macbeth, "The queen, my lord, is dead. By self and violent hands she took her life." That, as you know, is when Macbeth does his "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech. Garthie does it perfectly tonight, as he does every night — it was one of the few things he really managed to memorize — and it's most unfair of the audience to laugh at the bit about the poor player strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage.
In fact, it's about now that you begin to see what Mrs. Griffin was thinking when she cast him. In his last act, Macbeth is world-weary, sick with horror at what he has become, and only really staying alive to spite his enemies. Garthie nails all this perfectly, much better than he did the Machiavellian schemer of earlier acts. Perhaps because he's more comfortable doing this, he remembers his lines much better.
And then there's Macduff. In the last few scenes of the play, he becomes a terrifying figure — black-clad, eyes like gas flames, face red, teeth gritted, tendons standing out on his neck, holding his huge sword at the ready, striding around the battlefield searching for Macbeth, none of the usurper's supporters trying to challenge him. In fact, they make a point of getting out of his way, flattening themselves against the walls as he goes by.
The last duel is a little bit scary — we keep worrying that Garthie's going to get hurt. There's Macduff, with his big damn muscles and his big damn sword, attacking with the mad fury of a wild boar. Macbeth, for the first time in the whole play, really looks motivated — fighting not so much to stay alive, as to make sure that Macduff and Malcolm and Ross and Lennox and all the other motherfucking holier-than-thou Good Guys are going to have to work to get this stubborn asshole out of their lives. There's still no doubt how it'll end — even if you haven't read the play, it's pretty obvious that the only real question is how many pieces Pretty Boy Macbeth will be chopped into by the time Badass Macduff has gotten it out of his system. (When Macbeth makes like he doesn't want to kill off any more of the Macduff clan, the audience laughs loud and derisively.) Still, it's pretty intense.
It ends as it must. There's Malcolm, dominating the stage in all his pudgy little glory. Out comes Macduff, panting, bloody and, much to the audience's delight, holding aloft the best fake Macbeth head we could make. As he recites his lines, he puts the head on the wall, takes the crown off it, marches down to Malcolm, puts the crown on his head, and gets down on one knee, saying, "Hail, King of Scotland!" Everybody else on stage repeats this, and kneels likewise. And yes, the audience laughs at this too.
The music for the curtain call was supposed to be Mussorgsky again — this time "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Pictures at an Exhibition, to sort of bookend the play. Unfortunately, there wasn't a copy in the school library or the music department's collection (you'd think they'd have had Pictures at an Exhibition if they had "Night On Bald Mountain" but there we were) and my mom's copy, which hadn't been played in a year or so, turned out to be have several skips in the Great Gate part. This was about two days before opening night that we found this out, so naturally the whole cast scoured its record collection for something that would convey a general sense of hope and the nightmare ending and the day breaking. It was Garthie who found something. So instead of Mussorgsky's "The Great Gate of Kiev" you get to listen to New Order's "True Faith." Hope you don't mind.
And guess who's getting the loudest applause?
You got it. Gregg "Here's a knocking indeed" Apple.
But they also give Macduff a big cheer. And Banquo's hairy legs. And… me.
And they like it even more when the projector comes on and little Ian Lovage waves at them.
And now Garthie's coming out, and we're all turning and gesturing towards him like he's the greatest thing since Burbage, and he's standing in the middle of the stage taking his bow with that sheepish look on his face that says Yeah, I know, I was in way the hell over my head up here, I was so lost, I sucked ass, but somehow I made it through the whole thing… and can you believe they're giving him a standing ovation?