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When approaching a frequently interpreted work, such as a Shakespearean play, a director can choose between three possible routes.
The first involves staging the production in a novel space, giving way to an As You Like It on the beach or Hamlet in the actual ruins of Elsinore. The second, or conceptual tack, applies an external theme to the play’s framework, leading to Richard III in fascist Italy or Romeo and Juliet at a post-apocalyptic rave. The third posits some new interpretation of a character that flows against the traditional grain, allowing a lovable, misunderstood Iago or a courageous, bloodthirsty Hamlet. Hyperion’s current version of Macbeth takes both the first and third avenues.
Along the first path, the Scottish play is being staged in the open-air courtyard of Hilles Library (a choice to which much space was devoted in last week’s first segment of this two-part feature).
Utilizing the new space for theater is a compelling decision; equally intriguing are the interpretational judgments that director Daniel A. Cozzens ’03 and company have made for their production.
The major break with tradition is an unconventional portrayal of Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most powerful female figures. As Lady Macbeth urges her husband on his bloody path to the Scottish throne, she exhibits an ambitious, murderous zeal similar to that of her husband. Her ferocious lust for power makes her equally culpable as Macbeth for her husband’s eventual demise. Outwardly and inwardly, she seems anything but the figure of the loving wife, but that is the direction that Cozzens and his Lady, played by Lisa A. Faiman ’02, have decided to take.
“We hit on a really interesting thing where Lady Macbeth is trying to get Macbeth to believe in his own power and his ability to take his fate into his own hands,” said Cozzens. “There is the seduction of the witches as they control his mind and his thoughts about the future, and Lady Macbeth is trying to pull him back to believe in himself.”
This results in a Lady Macbeth that’s more compassionate and less brutal than most have seen. In scenes previewed by The Crimson, she caressed Macbeth in his troubled times, not manipulatively to spur him to kill, but tenderly to ease his mind. Faiman’s character constantly tries to reassure her husband and ground him in the natural, not supernatural, world.
Though intriguing, such a choice is not without problems, as having Lady Macbeth influence Macbeth in one direction and the witches in the other might reduce the protagonist to an unwitting dupe caught in between the forces of humanity and fate.
Another alternative bit of casting alters the role of the preternatural witches. The three Weird Sisters already function as Macbeth’s narrative motor as they prophecize Macbeth’s regal ascension, which he uses to justify his murders in the play’s first half. Later, they tell of Macbeth’s eventual fall, which he misinterprets as predicting the longevity of his reign.
Cozzens now gives his witches—Erica R. Lipez ’05, Scottie Thompson ’05 and Perry Fleisig-Greene ’05—greater prominence and increases their agency by casting them as murderers who advance the action and messengers who bring news to Macbeth throughout the play.
The witches have been cast, “not as Scottie and Erica playing the murderers,” said Cozzens, “but as the witches playing the murderers.” This subverts the Weird Sisters’ traditional status as passive seers who allow Macbeth to freely misconstrue their predictions.
The actresses playing the witches relish their expanded responsibilities. Cozzens’ approach “gives us more motivation as to what we’re doing with [Macbeth],” said Lipez. It also enables them to modernize archaic roles. “Because the creepy witch doesn’t exist anymore, it’s more about feminine power and tapping into the femme fatale,” added Thompson.
Interpreting Macbeth and the role of witchcraft in the play are subjects that were highlighted in a lecture and discussion evented hosted by Hyperion this past Tuesday. The event featured Shakespearean scholar and Hyperion faculty advisor Marjorie Garber, American Repertory Theatre Dramaturg and Associate Artistic Director Gideon Lester, as well as Cozzens.
Speaking about the witches, Garber lent legitimacy to Cozzens’ interpretation. “There is a whole train of thought that says the witches are a part of Macbeth’s mind. They are his unconscious,” said Garber. “Othello needs Iago, Macbeth needs the witches and Hamlet needs the ghost.” Hyperion’s production helps physically realize that necessity as the witches serve as murderers and messengers.
Lester, speaking from a dramaturgical perspective, focused on the play’s structural aspects and potential problems with staging this drama. “Why are we interested in the second half of the play?” asked Lester.
“The first half of the play is fantastically exciting and you really want to know what’s going to happen next. It’s bloody, gory, direct, gripping and cinematic, while the second half provides real challenges,” he said.
Yet Cozzens’ production has clearly made the effort to overcome those challenges. As the show is mounted in Hilles Library, it recalls the words of the valiant Macduff in Birnam Wood: “put on in/Industrious soldiership.”
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Daniel A. Cozzens ’03
Produced by Deena Chalbari ’03
Hilles Library Courtyard
April 25-May 4
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