Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’: Did Lady Macbeth make him do it?

Provided photo

Provided photo

By Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN

With the Middlebury Actors Workshop production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” director Melissa Lourie hopes to get into the mind of the doomed Scottish warrior.

“I am approaching it as a psychological drama,” Lourie says. “What Shakespeare does is he lets us get inside the head of a man who is, at first, not an evil man, but a very sensitive man with a sense of morality. But the fact that he turns away from that side of himself is fascinating.

“It’s this thing about men,” Lourie said in a recent phone interview. “They have to be powerful warriors, but inside they’re just weak little boys.”

Middlebury Actors Workshop will present William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” Oct. 20 through Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater. The professional production then tours to Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, and to Burlington’s Flynn Center, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Founded in 2001, Middlebury Actors Workshop is a small professional theater company that currently mounts two productions a year. It has been the resident theater company at Town Hall Theater since 2008. With a cast of 20, its “Macbeth” is scheduled to run only 95 minutes.

“This is definitely ambitious for us, and much of it has to be non-professional people,” Lourie, the company’s artistic director since 2003, said. “I’ve scoured the state and found some really good people.”

Thought to have premiered in 1606, Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy follows the brave Scottish general, Macbeth, who receives a prophecy from three witches that one day he will become king. Consumed by ambition, and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan. Forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself, Macbeth’s guilt and paranoia lead to his and Lady Macbeth’s eventual destruction.

During rehearsals, Lourie has been focusing on the all-important relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by guest Equity actor Craig Maravich and Chris Caswell, a Burlington professional actress.

“We’re really diving into that and making it central — as it is,” Lourie said. “They love each other. It’s one of Shakespeare’s only happily married couples.”

Lourie feels that it is up to the actress playing Lady Macbeth to explore what motivates this relentless desire to kill Duncan.

“She has this really strong desire to destroy Duncan, and she takes Macbeth along with her,” Lourie said. “She has a lot of emotional power over him.”

Lourie suggests as a possibility the child Lady Macbeth and Macbeth lost.

“It could be that Duncan has done something to her family or her in the past that provides her with a private vendetta against him,” Lourie said. “These are all things that we’ve been thinking about and working with.”

But ultimately, Lady Macbeth admires a man who is a strong, decisive warrior and, not soft.

“That’s what she’s into — but it turns out she’s not that way at all,” Lourie said. “She can’t handle what she gets Macbeth to do.”

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship proves to be as complex as it is pivotal.

“We’re finding some real closeness there, and some depth in their relationship,” Lourie said. “When we get ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ I think it’s really about him grappling with his emotions about her death. He can’t afford to grieve.”

For the physical production, Lourie’s aim is also to go inside the mind of Macbeth.

“It’s going to be very stark and timeless,” she said. “I am deliberately avoiding having any specific time because the story is timeless. When you set it in a specific time you start fighting certain parts of the text that might not go with that.

“Just let the words speak for themselves and create the world out of the words,” she said.

Middlebury College professor Peter Hamlin composed an original electronic score, and lighting veteran Matthew Stone designed the visual elements. Angela Brande and Marykay Dempewolff created the costumes.

“The atmosphere will be northern, gritty, rough, wool and dark, Ingmar Bergmanesque. It’s definitely Scotland. I hope there’s an eeriness to it,” Lourie said.

“I am trying to get into Macbeth’s head and see what he is seeing.”

Middlebury Actors Workshop

Middlebury Actors Workshop presents William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”:

— Oct. 20-23: Middlebury: $22, $10 student rush, Town Hall Theater, Thursday–Saturday 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday, 802-382-9222 or townhalltheater.org.

— Thursday, Oct. 27: Rutland — $20, Paramount Theatre, 7:30 p.m., 802-775-0903, www.paramountvt.org.

— Tuesday, Nov. 1: Burlington — $15-$36, Flynn Center, 7:30 p.m., 802-863-5966, www.flynncenter.org.