Pict Classic Theatre takes on Shakespeare’s back-stabbing ‘Macbeth’

by Alice T. Carter, Trib Total Media

David Whalen and Gayle Pazerski as Lord and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s dark tragedy “Macbeth” for the Pict Classic Theatre on Sunday Oct. 5, 2014. Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

David Whalen and Gayle Pazerski as Lord and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s dark tragedy “Macbeth” for the Pict Classic Theatre on Sunday Oct. 5, 2014. Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

“Macbeth,” William Shakespeare’s shortest work, is tightly crammed with witches and warriors, murders and betrayals, treachery and incautious ambition.

“It is a play about warriors and witchcraft,” says Alan Stanford, artistic and executive director of Pict Classic Theatre, who is directing the company’s production of “Macbeth.” The Scottish play begins performances Oct. 9 in the Stephen Foster Memorial in Oakland. “It is a play about ambition.”

As most know, it’s a dark tragedy about a Scottish general who is told by three witches he will become king of Scotland.

When his wife encourages Macbeth to move events along by eliminating those who stand in the way, the couple embarks on a downward spiral of increasingly bloody deeds.

“We are the golden couple. The most unlikely people to do it,” says David Whalen, who plays Macbeth. “I like that you start with a man who is loved, honored, noble and filled with the milk of human kindness, but who has ambition. I love the journey of the marriage from domestic tragedy to national tragedy.”

If you believe in fate and the witches’ prophecies, there’s a certain irony to the Macbeths’ actions and the results they bring on, Whalen says.

“Everything would have happened without these acts,” he says. “Once my wife unleashes me, she has no idea of the sickness that comes with it — complete paranoia — and there’s no going back.”

While Whalen’s Macbeth would have been content to allow his predicted fate to play out in its own time, it’s his wife’s urging that pushes them toward murder, Whalen believes. “He wants her to be happy,” Whalen says.

So, what exactly was Lady Macbeth hoping to achieve?

“She definitely wants more out of life,” says Gayle Pazerski, who plays Lady Macbeth. “They haven’t any children. And even if they did, I don’t think she would be satisfied with the average noblewoman’s life. I think she is very modern.”

In creating a back story for her character, Pazerski decided that the Macbeths had a child who died.

“She has suffered a huge loss, has had not a great life and feels this is something the world owes her,” Pazerski says.

Besides, she adds, events moved so quickly. There was little time for consideration or caution.

“We have a short window of time to decide. (Macbeth) comes home, and we have a plan that is not all that well-thought-out,” Pazerski says. “Once we are steeped in blood, we can’t go back. What choice have we got except to keep going?”

This production is set in a world as dark as and barbaric as the Macbeths’ deeds.

“‘Macbeth’ is set in an age of barbarism. … It is a brutal work where the warrior rules and ambition can be fulfilled by the sweep of a sword,” Stanford says. “It is not a play about Scotland, so don’t expect tartan and highland flings.”

There’s an abundance of stage combat and battle scenes and the witches are a frequent presence lurking at the edge of scenes, Whalen and Pazerski say.

“It’s set in a barbarian world where there are weird sisters and prophecies,” Whalen says. “The set requires heightened acting. There are levels and deepness and a floating staircase. It’s a land of castles and a place where a big battle can happen.”

A Lady’s influence

William Shakespeare’s ruthless, cunning and fearless Lady Macbeth first caught audience attention when “Macbeth” debuted in a performance for King James I on Aug. 7, 1605. Four centuries later, her character remains the go-to way of describing smart, strong and often-devious women who have a taste for power.

Some recent examples:

• Queen Cersi Lannister (Lena Headey) in “Game of Thrones”

• Amy in the novel and movie (Rosamund Pike) “Gone Girl”

• Serena in the novel upcoming 2015 film (Jennifer Lawrence) “Serena”

• Gillian Garmody (Gretchen Mol) in “Boardwalk Empire”

• Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in “House of Cards”

• Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) of “The Walking Dead”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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