Stage preview: Something wicked comes PICT’s way with ‘Macbeth’

By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Alex Knell and Alex Noble perform the scene "Killing Lady Macduff" at Stephen Foster Memorial Theater in Oakland. Photo by Ralph Musthaler/Post-Gazette

Alex Knell and Alex Noble perform the scene “Killing Lady Macduff” at Stephen Foster Memorial Theater in Oakland. Photo by Ralph Musthaler/Post-Gazette

Sometimes you just have to say “Macbeth.”

“The Scottish play,” as it’s called by superstitious theater types, has long attracted actors and actresses who want to test and stretch their chops on stage and screen. Broadway has hosted nearly 50 productions of Shakespeare’s tragedy about the consequences of unbridled ambition, including two last year and not including the Kenneth Branagh-Rob Ashford version that transferred from England to play New York’s Park Avenue Armory in June. Next year, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard will portray Lord and Lady Macbeth on the big screen.

And starting Thursday night, David Whalen and Gayle Pazerski will find out what happens when wicked comes their way for PICT Classic Theatre.

The play inspired the season for producing artistic director Alan Stanford, who announced 2014-15 with the theme “Something Wicked This Way Comes” — the oft-repeated line that marks the encounter of three really creepy witches and Macbeth.

“I also chose it because I have an actor who I think will play a very, very interesting Macbeth,” said Mr. Stanford, who will direct. “I am not the kind of director or artistic director who just comes up with a list of plays and says, ‘Who can I get for them?’ ”

Mr. Whalen, a versatile veteran of most Pittsburgh stages, tackled Shakespeare recently in “As You Like It” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The demands of Macbeth, who descends into murderous madness, are another side of the Bard entirely.

“I think Dave Whalen deserves to be a Macbeth,” Mr. Stanford said. “He’s a very, very, very good actor, he’s a very hard-working actor, he’s a very methodical actor and he thinks like hell. I’m going to enjoy helping him produce the Macbeth that’s in him.”

Lady Macbeth likewise is a coveted theater role tackled by leading ladies from Vivien Leigh to Judi Dench. She pushes her husband to murder the king and take the crown, but becoming queen sets off pangs of guilt that can’t be wished — or washed — away.

“Of course it’s a dream role,” said the Lady herself, Ms. Pazerski.

She has co-starred opposite Mr. Whalen in all three of her PICT appearances, and this time they met before rehearsals to talk over their roles and how the play unfolds.

“You go through all these things, and you forget how short this play is. It happens so fast, and every time we do a run, I’m like, ‘We’re already here!’ and things have escalated so quickly. … It’s not subtle, but it’s a fantastic experience. David and I have had many discussions about their marriage and their relationship, and that becomes really important when things have to happen so quickly between them.”

One trap for actors of Shakespeare can be saying the iconic lines — Lady Macbeth’s “out damned spot” being one — that can lose context when the audience is thinking, “Oh, that’s where that came from.”

“That’s always a concern, when you have to approach lines like that,” Ms. Pazerski said. “But as time goes on and the process goes on, it happens less and less.”

One thing the actors don’t have to worry about is putting on “phony accents” for the Scottish play.

“It’s not a play about Scotland; it’s a play about ambition. If you do ‘Oedipus,’ you don’t have everybody putting on phony Greek accents,” Mr. Stanford said.

His intent is to make the experience as accessible as possible, and Ms. Pazerski said the director and movement coach Mark Thompson have emphasized simplicity — apart from the fight scenes — the better to let the words do the talking. Mr. Thompson and actor James FitzGerald are working as a team on how the battles will play out.

In researching her part, Ms. Pazerski glommed onto a detail that she believes propels Lady Macbeth’s actions.

“It’s the issue of not having any children and how that has impacted her especially but also their relationship,” the actress explained. “She mentions that she has had a child and there isn’t one there, so that means they have lost one, and the fact that they are still together, to have survived that as a couple, means so much about how strong the relationship is. That is something I carry with me throughout the play and that I think motivates everything. He’s everything to her now and vice versa. That kind of surprised me.”

Ms. Pazerski played the part as a freshman in college but recognizes that she’s prepared now in a way she never could have been at an earlier age. As the mother of a young daughter, she feels a connection with Lady Macbeth’s inner struggles.

“I think a lot of times people tend to paint her in broad strokes as a villain, but I think she has a lot of deep, valid reasons for why she gets to this place so quickly,” the actress said.

“This place” is the murder of a king that sets off a bloodbath destroying men, women and children. You could say it’s Shakespeare at his most wicked.


Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.

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