The Rude Mechanicals hope to prove that there’s always something new to discover about Shakespeare with their take on the Bard’s play, beginning Aug. 15.
“Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness,” explores the classic play with fresh eyes, a technique commonly used by the Rude Mechanicals over the last 15 years since the troupe’s first show.
“We have this approach where we forget it’s been performed for 400 years — we forget the traditions and really look at the text as if it were a brand new play,” said director Joshua Engel. “That stripped-down version really lets us get at what we think is the heart of the play — it’s not just yet another version.”
“Macbeth” tells the story of Macbeth and his wife, the prophecies of witches and the consequences of pursuing power. Urged on by Lady Macbeth, the titular character kills the man in his way of the Scotland throne, an act that paves the way for increasingly worse acts of violence and tragedy.
This will be the third “Macbeth” production in Rude Mechanicals’ history — the play itself is a bit of a touchstone for several core members of the troupe, as their initial take in their second year introduced artistic director and producer Jaki Demarest to the company.
Engel played the wounded soldier, while actor Alan Duda had five lines toward the end. Almost 15 years later, Duda and Demarest — off-stage partners — take up the leads of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The intimacy and relationships between the three, along with the other members of the Rude Mechanicals, add an extra dimension to the play.
“There’s this real compassion and affection between the two that you don’t really see in other ‘Macbeth’ productions,” Engel said. “It’s very easy to present Lady Macbeth as this monstrous, domineering woman and Macbeth as either a victim or monster himself. I wanted to find the humanity in those two roles, and through their acting the audience will feel about the characters the way Alan and Jaki feel about each other.”
“The trust, the affection, the partnership – everything that personifies the Macs is something Alan and I bring to this for free,” Demarest added.
The performance of Lady Macbeth is also strengthened by Demarest’s passion for the role — one she’s been itching to play since childhood. When she was young, she spent her nap time devouring anything she could find, including a volume of Shakespeare’s plays she still refers to today.
“I picked it up and read it, and before I knew what half the words meant I knew I loved the sound of the language, the ebb and flow of every syllable engaged me,” she said. “I read all the plays I could get my hands on, but my favorite was always ‘Macbeth’ and my favorite character was always Lady Macbeth.”
This iteration of the role incorporated marked differences from what theatergoers may come to expect from productions of The Scottish Play. Engel’s take emphasizes the theme of darkness throughout the text, resulting in his Lady Macbeth being blind — and therefore the character most accustomed to the dark.
Engel assures that he has not added lines to the play, and that all of the adjustments to setting and characterization — Duda’s Macbeth starts out more self-doubting than traditional takes — are in keeping with an unbiased reading of the original text, changes he recognizes could alienate some.
“If a play isn’t taking the risk that it could fail, then it can’t really succeed,” he said. “I don’t want to put on an artistically safe production.”
His risks underwent a trial run during the Rude Mechanical’s production of the play at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival. Though he never reads reviews himself, he heard from others that a problem reviewers at the festival had was that Macbeth did not fit into the warrior, self-assured man they were used to seeing in the role — mission accomplished for Engel.
By eschewing the centuries of tradition attached to Shakespeare’s plays and other classic works, the Rude Mechanicals allow audiences to experience an old work of theater as if it were brand new, taking the text places other companies haven’t allowed it to travel.
“I’ve found that the plays often end up leading you places where you didn’t expect to go, and give you the most interesting shows,” Engel said. “I think that’s why we’re still doing these shows 400 years after the playwright dies.”