This little guy had me crying with laughter:
And this fierce lady is my newest role model:
A college friend’s Facebook status just alerted me to the fact that I did college theater with Kate McKinnon — as in, SNL’s Hillary Clinton and Ghostbuster Kate McKinnon. (Her name was different, which is why I’m not quite as oblivious as I sound!) And not just, like, there-when-she-was-there: I fight directed The Skriker, with her in the title role (in this scene, in fact); I have really fond memories of that show and now that I compare them to the face in the Ghostbusters trailers… yup.
I made a fight for Kate McKinnon. I SAT ON HER. My eyebrows are up to my hairline and planning to stay for a while.
Over the past few nights I’ve been working on some props for Those Women’s upcoming show Margaret of Anjou. I like to have TV on in the background while I art-n’-craft, so I decided to finally check out the Michael Fassbender Macbeth. And then the next night, the Great Performances film of Patrick Stewart’s. And, of course, the recent production at the Berkeley Rep was on my mind. Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine…
The Fassbender movie was… fine. It didn’t add much to my experience of the play, or the oevre of Shakespeare on film, but I also can’t point to anything in particular as “bad.” Ho hum, Scottish accents. The one interesting idea was that Malcolm actually catches Macbeth killing Duncan; they moved “the fountain of your blood is stopped” to this moment, and even if Fassbender didn’t own the role overall, he sure as hell can radiate menace. Malcolm, of course, high-tails it. So that was fun. I also really wanted to see The Borgias‘ Sean Harris as Macduff, since Harris is usually the one playing the murdering psychopath in any given… anything. He was serviceable, as well, but I find Macduff much less interesting than Micheletto, so.
Okay, I’m’a be a total spoiled Macbeth hipster for a minute here, but I saw Patrick Stewart live at BAM, and it was amaaaaaazing. There were changes for the filmed version, of course, and I missed some of the things you can only do onstage, like repeating the dinner party scene so we see it both with and without Banquo’s bloody ghost. The overall Cold-War-ish Soviet look was the same, love it, and most of the moments mapped onto what I remember, with one slightly disappointing exception: onstage, the most striking thing about Patrick Stewart as Macbeth is that he never yelled. Never. Did not shout defiance to Banquo’s ghost, did not roar at the oncoming Macduff, nothing. Threats and orders were delivered quietly, in a voice that scraped the bass end of his register. There was some shouting added in the movie version — but still about 95% less than your average Macbeth. Every performance in this one blows the Fassbender movie out of the water. Great knife fight at the end, too. (Terry King, you are the man!)
And then, swimming up in my memory, come Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand as the royal couple. Reviews were mixed, praising the show’s visuals and some performances while calling it unfocused and lamenting the chemistry between the leads. I actually loved these two as Mr and Mrs, and the show’s focus on Mackers as essentially a weak character. We hear that he’s a boss on the battlefield, but what we see onstage is a man so ill-suited to leadership that this can only end badly. He gets promoted above his actual skill set and finds himself making stupid, short-sighted choices in a desperate scramble to rescue himself from previous stupid, short-sighted choices. Tragic flaw, hell — he’s just kind of a schlemiel, and I love to see that exemplified in the same character as martial prowess, which we usually (and toxically) lionize as the crowning (GET IT?!) achievement of masculinity.
Whoops, seem to have fallen down a textual rabbit hole. Ah, well. In for a penny…
My favorite thing about Frances McDormand’s Lady M was that she took the time to be happy. It seems to me that a lot of Ladies go straight from “Wow, my husband will be king” to “Okay, you lily-livered dipshit, we’re going to do this or else,” and then keep their teeth bared until the sleepwalking scene. But McDormand tried to find whatever moments were going well for Lady Macbeth, the handful of times in the play where she feels good, and highlight those… which makes it worse, in the end.
And together? They sought comfort from each other consistently throughout the play. And while the emphasis is usually placed on “I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” here the line flowed by, and the ‘stop’ came when Macbeth jokes, with admiration, “Bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males.” The words are just out of his mouth when he realizes what he’s said. He takes her hand. They are sad together for a moment. He wants to go back to the conversation that was making her happy, thus the huuuuge redirect into “Will it not be received, when we have marked with blood those sleepy two…” I’m sure this isn’t the first time I’ve seen that beat played up, but it — obviously — stuck out for me here as something that really worked.
Although I (obviously) love Macbeth, it also has my least favorite scene in Shakespeare: Macduff goes to England to give Malcolm a pep talk, Malcolm pretends to be a terrible person who shouldn’t be king, and as soon as Macduff is well and truly pissed off, Malcolm takes it all back and says it was just a test. The scene feels like it’s nine years long, and I dread it every time I see the show. Adam Macgill and Korey Jackson made it work for me, though, largely because Adam’s Malcolm seemed aware of the hyperbole of his terrible-person claims and wasn’t successfully inhabiting them for Macduff’s benefit; same thing later, when he tells Macduff to “man up,” he seems to realize how inappropriate it is that he’s saying that to a stone-cold badass like Macduff, who then schools him in true manliness in like six words. To put it another way, Adam is a better actor than Malcolm, who is just as honest and boyish as he says. Gold star for everyone!
I think my props are done setting; peace, the charm’s wound up…
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Macbeth — can I say that yet? hang on, I’ll spin around three times — who made it through a busy preview week and on to the run. The show is playing at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater through April 10, and a little bird told me that you might have to murder your liege lord to get tickets. Frances McDormand (Fargo, eh?) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) star and Daniel Sullivan directs; New Yorkers, remember the Merchant of Venice in the Park with Al Pacino? Or the Twelfth Night that was impossible to get into? That director.
And of course, Macbeth has a pretty high body count, especially if you stage a big battle at the end. Enter — who else? — Bay Area fight director Dave Maier. And, just a little bit, me. :-)
Dave invited me to join him for some choreography jam sessions and a few rehearsals, for which he super-awesomely entered me into the rolls as “assistant fight director.” No lie, you guys, I’m’a make a collage out of the program and hang it up next to my weapons. It all started as something that’s pretty normal to me — three people in a big room, swinging swords — and it was amazing to see that work become part of such an epic production. It was also great to watch Dave at work. Mostly I see him in class or workshop-teaching mode, or we’re just fighting each other, but teching a battle like this one is a different game entirely. It. Looks. Awesome. Lights, sound, projections, the set, the costumes and armor — and that’s before anyone even speaks.
I actually haven’t seen most of the play, so I look forward to learning what choices inform the parts I have seen, and hearing some of my favorite text aloud. Lay on!
You’ve heard of the Bechdel-Wallace Test, yeah? Set down by Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, from her friend Liz Wallace’s idea, the test asks if a work of fiction contains a) two female characters, b) both with names, who c) talk to each other d) about something other than a man. Passing the test doesn’t mean that the work is feminist or even good, just that it has a reasonable chance of accurately portraying the fact that half of all people are women. More than vindicating the works that pass, the test condemns those that fail — which is most of popular culture.
So I got to thinking, it’s pretty hard to find a fight scene with two women in it — at least, one that correlates to the Bechdel-Wallace criteria. I would also add that the two women must have an explicitly physical confrontation. Sorry, Gwendolyn and Cecily; the question is not “What can we reasonably turn into a fight scene?” but “What does it look like when we don’t have to do that?”
This is the only example I can think of, and it took me a while. It’s from Caryl Churchill’s magnificent play The Skriker:
JOSIE: She’s horrible. There’s something wrong with her.
JOSIE takes hold of SKRIKER to look at her.
LILY: Leave her alone.
SKRIKER: Leave me alone, I’ll tell my mum.
JOSIE: She’s not your mum. You haven’t got a mum.
SKRIKER: Mum! mum!
LILY: Josie, stop it. It’s all right, pet, she’s just/ teasing.
JOSIE: Get out you little scrounger./ Leave Lily alone.
SKRIKER: Mum, don’t let her/hit me.
JOSIE: I know you, you bastard. How you like toads? you like dirt in your mouth? Get away from us. You come in the house I’ll put you in the fire, then we’ll see what you look like.
JOSIE picks up dirt from the ground and stuffs it in the SKRIKER’s mouth. LILY rescues SKRIKER.
LILY: Get away, you’re crazy./ (To SKRIKER:) It’s all right.
JOSIE: It’s her.
Full disclosure: this is not technically a fight between two women, it’s a fight between one woman and one shapeshifting death- portent currently taking the form of a young girl. That’s the closest thing I have for now, but I’ll be on the lookout for more Bechdel-Wallace-compliant fight scenes!
10/5/15 — How could I forget the Lady Cavaliers’ short film Tea Before Honour?! Still counting on one hand, though.
In its annual round-up, The East Bay Express has named Those Women Productions the best year-old theater company in the East Bay! Woohoo!
Those Women was founded in 2014 by Carol Lashoff and Elizabeth L. Vega, who wanted to explore the flip side of canonical stories about gender and power. I did the fights for their world-premiere production of Carol’s play Just Deserts last year, which was hailed as “innovative and harrowing,” “satisf[ying] as diverse an audience as it attracts.” (I sincerely meant to write all about the show; short version, it was great!)
As you might expect from a Best of the Bay, Those Women are at it again: Carol’s play Disclosure opens August 12th at PianoFight in San Francisco, and a festival of retold fairy tales opens as In Plain Sight on September 4th at the Metal Shop Theater in Berkeley.
Hamlet rehearsal, looking at a few non-fight bits of physicality in the show, including Laertes and Ophelia bidding farewell. Dave Maier watches them, thinks for a moment, and then asks, “Do you guys know what a ‘noogie’ is?”