PORT TOWNSEND — It’s a seething, sexy tragedy. It’s going to be “off the hook,” Lady Macbeth promises.
And the saga unfolds in broad daylight in a stunning setting, adds her husband.
The pair, also known as Amanda Steurer and Kerry Skalsky, are the leads in “Macbeth,” Key City Public Theatre’s 2011 edition of Shakespeare in the Park. The play opens tonight at 6 p.m. in Chetzemoka Park, the waterside expanse at Jackson and Blaine streets, and continues each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 21.
All performances begin at 6 p.m., with seating open at 5:30. Admission is pay-what-you-wish, while the suggested contribution is $20 for Fridays and Saturdays, $18 for Sundays and $10 for students at all shows. For more details, visit www.KeyCityPublicTheatre.org or phone 360-379-0195 or 360-385-7396. Patrons are urged to dress warmly, bring picnic fare, chairs and blankets and be ready for a large dose of “double, double toil and trouble,” as the witches say in this play. At just under two hours, this is Shakespeare’s fastest-paced tragedy tweaked to move even faster, Skalsky said.
This is the story of how Macbeth and his vicious, ambitious wife plot to kill the king of Scotland so they can take over — and how their plotting and murder lead to madness.
Skalsky, in a post-rehearsal interview this week, calls “Macbeth” a few other things.
It’s “a 405-year-old play that never loses its power,” he began, and “one of the best ghost stories in the English language, complete with witches and specters and a dark chaos that threatens to rend the very fabric of the world. It’s a thrilling experience when brought to life, and this is a great chance to experience the Bard in the flesh, as it were.
“Incidentally, performing in daylight as we are puts us on a par with Elizabethan companies,” added the actor. “This is one of the reasons Shakespeare’s language is richly imagistic: Every effect had to be accomplished with the word. It’s an incredible aural feast.”
Steurer, his leading lady, grew up in Port Townsend and did her first Shakespeare in the park — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — back in 1995. Then, she was an ingenue; now she’s 35 and playing one of the juiciest female roles in literary history.
To her, “Macbeth” is the story of a marriage.
Her character and Macbeth “have a very passionate relationship. They really do love each other; they really do start as a unit,” Steurer said.
Then the trouble starts, with some naivete, plus a lie. That leads to another lie, and then to things worse than Lady Macbeth could have imagined.
It’s an arc of ambition that runs amok; “once that ball is rolling, you can’t take it back,” added Steurer.
She calls Shakespeare’s storytelling a minefield of glittering stones. “You pick the jewels out, and the deeper you go, the more richness you pluck out of it. It’s all about the human experience.”
Steurer praised “Macbeth’s” director Charlie Bethel, a New York City-based actor and writer who also brought Dickens’ “Seven Poor Travellers” to Port Townsend last Christmas.
Bethel’s approach to Shakespeare is “Let’s unravel this tapestry together,” Steurer said. When she was having difficulty with one of Lady Macbeth’s more horrifying lines, the director told her that Shakespeare would want her to say it slowly. “It’s a hard thing to say,” Bethel explained. “You’re discovering an idea, and you’re sharing that with the audience.”
“Macbeth” has a whole lot of action, too — choreographed by Ben Rezendes, a Key City Public Theatre scholarship recipient who went on to graduate from the Stella Adler Academy in New York City.
Rezendes, who also plays Macbeth’s rival Macduff, calls himself the “fight guy.” He calls Macduff “righteous,” and “a dream come true.”
At the end of the show, he comes out on stage with the severed head of Macbeth — “how cool is that?” Rezendes asks.
Seriously, though, the roles of Macduff and stage-combat choreographer were just the right sizes. Macduff “has some meat to it, but it isn’t so huge that I can’t still focus on being a fight director.”
Rezendes had to teach the cast combat skills and, he said, keep the fights fluid and quick so the play doesn’t get bogged down. Shakespeare’s words, as he puts it, must “surf on top of the violence.”
The choreographer also made all of the weapons: 17 of them, including 12 machete variations, three bowie knives and a tomahawk for himself.
To those who aren’t well-versed in “Macbeth,” or who just don’t remember much from school, Rezendes recommends www.SparkNotes.com and its “No Fear Shakespeare” section. “A quick brush-up will allow you to just listen and enjoy. You don’t need to read the play unless you want to, but if you know what’s going on, you’ll have much more fun,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful park, a beautiful set and there is lots to watch. Bring a picnic and enjoy yourselves,” Rezendes added. “Shakespeare has something for all to enjoy — like machete fights.”
As for Macbeth himself, Skalsky calls him one of the iconic Shakespearean challenges.
“I’ve always leaned toward tragedy,” the actor said, adding that one of the sticking points was finding something in his murderous character that would spark some empathy in the audience. “Macbeth certainly has a conscience, and the real battle he fights is in his mind,” Skalsky said. “His overactive imagination, fueled by fear, runs wild … essentially, he gives his soul over to the dark side.”
Macbeth’s relationship with his wife has always fascinated Skalsky. Someone once told him: “Lovers in Shakespeare are comedy, and tragedy is what happens when they get married.”