Meet The Macbeths: OSHER@Northern Stage
Holding a mirror . . .and an iPhone
No kilts, no corsets. A multicultural cast that includes women in positions of power. Northern Stage's upcoming production of Macbeth is, and is not, your grandparents' Shakespeare. The playwright is the same and the words are still his, but the setting is modern, the better, according to Northern Stage, to "hold a mirror" up to the violent and power-grabbing part of life in 2016.
I am one of 45 students in a course sponsored by OSHER at Dartmouth, held on four consecutive Friday afternoons at Northern Stage in White River Junction VT. In addition to the classes, OSHER students are invited to other events that peel back the curtain on how this theater company is producing "the Scottish play" that will be a part of the global theater community's marking of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
On this day we have finished lunch in the Stage's lobby while listening to the renown Shakespearean director, Stephen Brown-Fried, the principal actors, Trisha Miller and Robert David Grant, and retired Dartmouth professor and Shakespearean scholar Peter Saccio, discussing their vision of the play. Brown-Fried says that he wanted to present the play in a modern format in a nod to Shakespeare, who in his own era, wrote the play to address the issues of the day. In 2016 that means a place for technology and an enhanced role for women among the politicos. It's not just window-dressing. Brown-Fried believes that Shakespeare would approve, maybe even encourage, the telling of this story in a contemporary guise. Saccio, as dramaturg, mines the script for nuance and history, and is sometimes seen as a surrogate voice for the playwright, keeping things true to the original work even as it is presented in its modern version.
Trisha Miller as Lady Macbeth, checking her email.
It's one thing to hear that, and another to see it. We are escorted to the rehearsal room. The director had previously noted that one of the many layers of this play is Shakespeare's (rare) portrait of a marriage. The scene in rehearsal is Lady Macbeth at home, awaiting the arrival of her husband. Brown-Fried had said, "I just couldn't get out of my mind that their conversation should take place in their kitchen." And so it does, complete with stainless steel fridge. Like the archetypal suburban housewife, Mrs. Macbeth pours herself a glass of wine and leans on the kitchen counter. A "letter" arrives from her spouse, but in a modern form--an email. She grabs for her iPhone. While delivering her unmistakable Shakespearean lines, she glances upward toward a corner of the room, and knows immediately that her husband has arrived. We, the audience, don't quite understand. Oh, says Brown-Fried by way of explanation, "the Macbeths have security cameras on their property. She is seeing him on a monitor."
As Carol Dunne, Northern Stage's Artistic Director, says, it's a daring version. And while that refrigerator commanded my attention in the first few minutes of rehearsal, it receded into the background as Trisha Miller began to inhabit Lady Macbeth. When she begged the fates to "unsex her" so that she could murder with impunity, she was totally recognizable and frightening as hell.
Macbeth opens Northern Stage's 20th anniversary season on September 28 and runs until October 23. Tickets are available through the box office: or www.northernstage.org, or 802-296-7000.
(Photos by Michael Hornig, used with permission of Northern Stage)
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