Tickets are available by calling 386-225-4394 or online at palmcoastartsfoundation.com/events.
We’ll get to the in the park act and the launch of a sensational new tradition in Palm Coast in a moment. But this Shakespeare tale requires a brief digression. It’s part of the plot.
Saying the name “Macbeth” inside a theater will lead to dire misfortune. So says a well-known superstition among thespians, which is part of a larger curse on the play that allegedly goes back to the time of Shakespeare himself.
Indeed, says Norrie Epstein in her book, “The Friendly Shakespeare,” the curse began on the very first performance of “the Scottish play” on Aug. 7, 1606, when “the boy who played Lady Macbeth died backstage.”
So it’s no wonder that, as City Repertory Theatre prepares to stage the Bard’s tragedy from tonight through Sunday (Feb. 25), director John Sbordone becomes alarmed and hurls barbs at a loose-lipped reporter (this reporter) who has casually dropped the “M” word inside the troupe’s venue at City Marketplace in Palm Coast.
OK, so that was faux anger conjured by Sbordone, a consummate conjurer.
But then 10 minutes later, as Sbordone, Robert O. Dimsey (who plays Macbeth) and Sharon Resnikoff (Lady Macbeth) discuss “the Scottish play,” the interview is interrupted by a loud, grating, metal-clawing-stone noise that sounds like one of the gargoyles atop Notre Dame Cathedral is hacking up a uranium fur ball.
“Oh Jesus!” Resnikoff shouts, jumping in her chair.
The door to City Rep’s theater space – propped open on this warm February night by an oddball piece of metal – has given way to an unseen hand. It screeches to a close.
“It’s the spirits!” Resnikoff says. (“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”)
“Oh it is,” Sbordone says as he casts a mock baleful glare at the reporter, the Lady Macbeth pouring out of him. “You see! You see! You said the word!”
But City Rep’s staging of “Macbeth” may be spared the curse on a technicality: The play will not be staged in the venue in which its title was uttered. Instead, “Macbeth” will be staged as a Shakespeare in the park production in conjunction with the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, which has collaborated with Sbordone and City Rep in the past.
The play will be performed on an outdoor stage under an enclosed tent at the Palm Coast Arts Pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave. The foundation is in the midst of a multi-phase, multi-year project to build an arts center at that location.
“We’ve partnered with CRT a couple of times in the past,” says Sam Perkovich, president of the arts foundation, “and we’ve always talked Nancy and myself and John Sbordone and Diane about one of these days we’ll be able to do Shakespeare in the park.” Nancy Crouch is the executive director of the foundation. Diane Ellertsen has been CRT’s artistic director. “It’s been kind of a dream, and with the stage, we’re there. We’re hoping this is an inaugural of something we’ll do every year, that we’ll turn it into a festival.”
Perkovich envisions a weekend-long Renaissance-type festival with a variety of arts and events, making that sort of weekend a standard part of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s year, the way its Picnics and Pops concert with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra has become an annual, spring tradition.
It seems to be already catching on. Sbordone and Perkovich hoped “Macbeth” would draw 50 people each of the four nights it’s staged. It’s already well beyond that number, with Friday and Saturday sold out to the point where additional chairs had to be brought in (the grounds enable it). “We have room for more chairs but we want to be able to handle it,” Perkovich said.
The success echoes the early days of the original Shakespeare In the Park festival, in New York’s Central Park. Joseph Papp, a mere stage manager at CBS in 1956 whose life was changed by free access to books, asked the imperious Robert Moses for permission to stage free Shakespeare productions in a Lower East Side amphitheater. Moses, a Macbeth of his day but for the dead bodies, was the parks commissioner in New York, among other things. But he loved Shakespeare. Moses signed on. The next year when Papp asked to move the free plays to Central park, Moses signed on for that, too. That year’s “Romeo and Juliet” drew superlative praise from Walter Kerr, the most powerful theater critic of his day, who called the play “in many respects the best Romeo and Juliet I have ever seen.”
Within two years, people started lining up three hours before the tickets went on offer each evening at 6:15, hundreds watched standing up, hundreds were turned away. A tradition was born, and many cities have since co-opted it. (As subplots go, Papp was soon summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and–“a deed of dreadful note”–accused of being a communist over his efforts, producing one of the great moments of the sordid hearings: Morgan Moulder, the Missouri Democrat and a particularly obtuse member of the committee, accused Papp of using Shakespeare in the Park to spread communist ideology. “Sir,” Papp told Moulder, “the plays we do are Shakespeare’s plays. As Shakespeare said, ‘To Thine own self be true,’ and various other lines from Shakespeare can hardly be said to be subversive or influencing minds. I cannot control the writings of Shakespeare.”
The Palm Coast Arts Foundation and City Repertory Theatre are not at the point where they can offer the plays free, as Papp and New York did: Palm Coast is not the sort of town that has been known to subsidize the arts for more than a few pennies per residents, though Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland–a friend of the foundation’s and the arts in general–has been working to change that perception and find the necessary dollars to broaden the city’s imprint through the arts. So there may yet be a future for Shakespeare in the Park as Papp intended it.
Meanwhile, and “in measureless content,” there is Macbeth tonight and through Sunday.
Shakespeare’s tragedy tells the tale of Macbeth, a general in the army of medieval Scotland. When Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesy that he will become king, his resultant lust for power–think ambition on fentanyl–is fueled by his wife, Lady Macbeth, and breeds dire consequences for him and all those around him.
Misfortunate consequences evidently have spilled offstage and into real life. Epstein’s book lists all sorts of mayhem that has plagued productions of “Macbeth” over the years, from a rivalry between two actors that led to a riot and the deaths of 31 people in 1849, to a critic who died a few days after panning Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth” in 1936.
Thespians may fear the curse of “the Scottish play” (which, theater lore says, can be avoided by calling it “the Scottish play”). But Shakespeare inspires fear in other ways, says the City Rep troupe, which will be performing the Bard’s tragedy in the Bard’s Elizabethan language.
“I think Shakespeare has gotten a bad rap,” says Dimsey, a veteran area actor whose credits include City Rep’s “The Laramie Project,” “Born Yesterday” and “Working.” He believes City Rep “can actually perform ‘Macbeth’ in such a way that it can reach the audience and maybe knock down some fear of Shakespeare. I believe there is very, very little in this play that people will miss and not understand.”
Particularly in an age when power, ambition, greed, rapacity, manipulation, lies, a complete absence of scruples and no lack of paranoia, guilt, back-stabbing and front-stabbing are the common threads of most political stories and their social media effluents. “Macbeth,” in other words, is as actual as any HBO miniseries.
Indeed, Sbordone notes, Shakespeare was not considered highbrow in his day: “He wrote for the masses. He wrote for the penny people in the pit. It’s melodramatic. It’s gory. It’s violent. It’s topical. It’s all that.” So much so that the more classical Voltaire considered Shakespeare’s plays entertaining and the writing admirable but their explicit violence made them inappropriate for the stage.
Yet, Sbordone adds: “There are a lot of actors I have worked with who would not do this play, who are afraid of Shakespeare. But as Bob and Sharon are saying, these are the meatiest roles that you’re going to play. And there are so many ways of approaching them, interpreting them, bringing them to life.
“Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – what are their motives? Where are they coming from? It’s not necessarily simple ambition and murder. The catchphrase is ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ That’s a catchphrase, but that’s not necessarily what this is all about. What drives their relationship together, and what do they aspire to as a couple, as human beings?
“We never want it to be simple ‘fate.’ We never want it to be something that is proscribed because tragedy is always about evolution of character, always about that turning point.”
“Macbeth is the only villain who is the hero in a Shakespearean piece,” Dimsey says. “He’s the bad guy who goes around whacking people. That sets him apart for one thing. But the tragedy of his arch is that he creates fate and then doesn’t realize he’s a victim. His largesse, his arrogance blind him to what has been revealed to him by the seers of the future: This is going to happen and he says ‘I’m going to fix it’ – because he thinks he’s so smart. In the end, you feel sorry for him – but you want him dead.”
And then there’s her.
“From the first moment we see Lady Macbeth, she is not a likeable character,” says Resnikoff, whose stage credits include “Other Desert Cities” at City Rep and “Hedda Gabler” at Limelight Theatre in St. Augustine, as well as study at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles.
Resnikoff’s declaration prompts a spirited exchange between her and Sbordone.
“I disagree,” the director says. “She becomes something in the service of her husband that she should not or cannot be.”
“But she does it with emotional blackmail,” Resnikoff replies. “She emasculates him. She ridicules him through her sexuality, her sensuality. She calls him a coward.”
“I think that’s a contemporary woman’s point of view,” Sbordone says.
“No, it’s not — it’s in the text, baby!” Resnikoff says.
“Texts go a lot of different ways,” Sbordone says.
As do the sexes.
“Macbeth” certainly isn’t “Romeo and Juliet,” but audiences may be conditioned to ignore or downplay the fact that Macbeth and Lady are a couple – man and woman, at least according to their given parts, though in Shakespeare nothing is always what it seems. .
“Right from the start that’s what we talked about – the sexual relationship, the lust,” Sbordone says. “It depends on how you’re looking at the play. If you look at it academically, it’s not there. But it is if you look at it as two people. As Lady Macbeth says right from the first moment you meet her: ‘He is too full of the milk of human kindness. Unsex me here.’ ”
“The famous speech ‘Unsex me’ is because it’s almost like she feels goodness is weakness,” Resnikoff says. “And there’s the question of gender: male-female and strength-weakness. So she is beckoning these spirits, the witches, to unsex her – make her more masculine so she can fulfill these desires. She does have ruthless ambition.”
While some may claim “Macbeth” is cursed, the play itself is not so afflicted in the eyes of Sbordone.
“ ‘Macbeth’ in many ways is Shakespeare’s most powerful drama,” Sbordone insists, an opinion that may send a certain melancholy Dane further into the depths of despair. “It has more quotable lines than any of his other plays. It’s the shortest, most intense of the Shakespearean tragedies. I have always loved this play.”
“Macbeth,” directed by John Sbordone: City Repertory Theatre will stage “Macbeth” at 6 p.m. Thursday Feb. 22, 7 p.m. Friday Feb. 23 and Saturday Feb. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday Feb. 25. Performances will be on an outdoor stage under an enclosed tent at the Palm Coast Arts Pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave., Palm Coast.
For opening night Feb. 22, tickets are $50 Palm Coast Arts Foundation members and CRT season subscribers, $75 general public, and include appetizers, two drink tickets and meet and greet with the actors. Performances Feb. 23-25 are $30 general public, $25 PCAF members and CRT annual subscribers, $10 students with ID. Tickets are available by calling 386-225-4394 or online at palmcoastartsfoundation.com/events. Pre-show meals will be offered through PCAF as a fundraiser for its efforts to build a new arts center.