Sunday, January 20, 2019
The set is fairly simple but effective, the major piece being a long banquet table, with three microphones placed on it, as if for a press conference. There are also candy dishes, a fruit bowl, a small plant and a steering wheel on display on the table. Behind the table are horizontal blinds, the lights a sepia tone, recalling the look of old films. There is one small platform downstage left, with a microphone suspended over it, like for a boxing match of old. When the play opens, a single light shines down on a spot stage left, and a woman enters and steps into the light. She wears a green dress and sports a blond wig in the style that Barbara Stanwyck wore her hair in Double Indemnity. She steps onto the platform and speaks into the microphone. Another woman in the same outfit enters from the same spot, and then a third. They move in a deliberately slow manner, the three witches, creating an eerie vibe, and carry food and drink to be placed on the table, odd wisps of smoke hovering above. A wonderfully creepy and ominous stage image is created when the three women stand at the table with their backs to the audience. At that moment, Walter enters from upstage left, wearing a purple suit and grey hat, moving slowly on crutches, recreating that opening image from the film. But once he reaches the platform, he begins to sing, and the entire production takes on a very different feel, the witches now acting as his backing vocalists. It is hip and humorous. The song tells us he was Macbeth, but now is Walter, living in the suburbs of Los Angeles (where he apparently does foley in addition to insurance – he walks across a box filled with rocks, a small microphone placed at the edge of the box).
The cover of the program describes the production as “A Meditation on Macbeth,” and indeed there is a meditative, even dreamlike quality to the production. It is mesmerizing, particularly the women’s coordinated movements as they are engaged in a dark dance somewhat at odds with their bright cheerful innocent exteriors. All three ask him, “Do you handle accident insurance?” The lines are a mixture of dialogue from the film and from Shakespeare’s play, and there is a wonderful song about a mind being filled with scorpions. And is every American a little Macbeth ready to kill for happiness? Perhaps. Interestingly, the women are not only the witches and Phyllis, but also Lady Macbeth, at one point saying “Give me the daggers.” At certain points, they seem to control Walter’s movements, reminding us of the way Lady Macbeth maneuvered Macbeth into the murder plot after Macbeth had decided against it. That also adds to the dreamlike quality of the piece, for often in dreams it feels that our movements are hampered, that things are out of our control. Also, in dreams often one’s sense of identity is rather fluid, as it is here.
Perhaps my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare’s work is the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech that Macbeth delivers when he’s learned of Lady Macbeth’s death toward the end of the play, and here it plays a prominent part as well, used in one of the production’s songs. Each of the four characters delivers a few lines of this great speech. “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” I love the music to this performance. Music and sound play such an important role in this production, and there is more than a bit of jazz to the actors’ movements as well. I particularly love that moment when the three women appear behind the blinds, each lit with a spotlight. It is gorgeous and haunting and oh-so-bloody cool. But I suppose that could be said of the entire production.
Thursday, January 10, 2019
World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story was published in 2018 through BMG Books.