Ann Sharp/The Ann Arbor News/March, 1993
Last year South Africa-born director Stephen Rayne brought his alternative version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” set in modern day Africa, to the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. This week the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre presents an even more radical take on the Scottish Play what might be called a techno pop ‘Macbeth’,” directed by AACT new-comer Dr. George Popovich.
Popovich, Director of Theatre at Dearborn’s Henry Ford Community College says, that his ACT production is essentially a reworking of a version of “Macbeth” he staged at HFCC in 1991. That show’s elaborate environmental staging, with raised walkways, overlooks and ropes for the actors to shinny up, will be recreated in ACT’s Second Stage auditorium.
About a third of the performers are imports from the original 1991 “Macbeth,”Mike Petee and Kevin Walsh as various incarnations of the title character, and Lori Pryzbylo, Tracey Spada, Rose Gruley and Heather Ray as Weird Sisters. Another third were recruited from the University of Michigan, and the rest come from AACT and Performance Network.
The main distinction between the Ford and AACT “Macbeths” is that this time Popovich is basing his production on a different script: Charles Marowitz’s ” A Macbeth, ” a revisionist version of Shakespeare’s play that was originally performed by Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company during the late 1960’s.
“What he (Marowitz) had done was collage the play. He chopped it up and created a whole new meaning, but he still kept the same story.” So, for instance, Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is given to a priest who’s conducting lady MacBeth’s funeral.
Popovich’s “A MacBeth” is designed as a multi-media sensory blitz, with hallucinatory lighting effects, the aforementioned floor-to-ceiling staging, and rock concert-level incidental music by the Detroit-based band GLOD. “Wherever you sit, It’s a different show,” says Popovich. (Tip: For the full effect, try the seats at the very far right and far left upper edges of the auditorium.)
In order to completely understand where Popovich’s “A MacBeth” is coming from, it helps to know a little about Antonin Artaud, the visionary modernist whose ideas, written in the 1920’s laid the foundation for the type of theatre that “A MacBeth ” represents.
“He was a madman basically,” Popovich explains. “They thought he had meningitis or something, a disease that made his brain operate in thought and memory clusters rather than logical, linear thinking.” Though no one really knows how to correctly interpret Artaud’s writing, his concept of “Theatre of Cruelty’ has inspired many practitioners, from RSC director Peter Brook to Jim Morrison of The Doors.
Artaud envisioned a theatre in which the audience would be bombarded by sensory stimuli that would shake them out of their normal way of experiencing theatre, altering their consciousness in profound ways. Some of the methods Artaud imagined were technically inconceivable in the early 20th century. But now, Popovich says, such effects are possible now through devices like projectors and lasers that are an integral part of “A MacBeth.”
“We’re using as much technology as we can without totally overwhelming the actors and spectators, ” says Popovich. “But there’s a balance here. This is not U2. It’s not intended to shock people into another sensibility other than the show, but intended to seduce them into the show.”
This Artaudian “A MacBeth ” is definitely not a production to bring children to, and it’s not a good choice for a person sensitive to loud noises or flashing lights. Still, Popovich says the average Ann Arbor theatregoer shouldn’t find the experience hard to handle. In fact he believes mainstream audiences are more ready for his sort of stimulating theatre than most local producers realize.
“It’s not for the fringes,” Popovich insists. “It’s not a cult piece. The last time we ran this, we were turning away 400 people a night.”