By the pricking of my thumbs, and so forth.

Kelly Barnhill’s review of Nightpath Theatre’s production of Macbeth: Rehearsing
Originally Published January 24, 2011

Macbeth and Banquo meet their destiny. And boy will they regret it.

So I’ll admit it. I never really liked Macbeth. And it wasn’t just the disastrous production of it that I saw in high school, either (though, admittedly, there are some bad tastes that can linger in the mouth for years – nay, decades after eruption), nor does it have anything to do with the fact that the boy who played Macbeth in the aforementioned high school production did once ruthlessly and callously and carelessly jilt the easily-brokenhearted Kelly (née Regan) Barnhill.

But seriously, I never really dug the play. And mostly, I never really understood the moment that broke Macbeth, nor was I ever able to place myself in that moment when he transforms from honorable soldier and loyal citizen to bloody madman. Indeed, the transition seemed to me to be so abrupt, so out of character, that I never really bought it.

Does the good man really go bad, I wondered? On that dramatic a scale? Wouldn’t he have a tiny bit of crazy-madman-power-hungry-killer dude in him before his little run-in with the witches? Or was someone else pulling the strings.

Now, obviously, most people point to the general string-puller as Lady Macbeth, and it’s true that from the get-go she’s much more keen on murder, much more hungry for power as her husband is, but in the end, she’s just as crazy, just as broken, and just as manipulated as he is.

So who, then, is the manipulator? The play is, and has been, mum.

But this weekend I went to see my beloved (and beautiful and talented) sister, Sheila Regan, perform in Nightpath Theatre’s production of Macbeth: Rehearsing, directed by Maggie Scanlon. Here’s a picture:

Sheila Regan as witch

See what I mean? Beautiful and talented. And a frickin’ scary witch.

And I brought my two daughters with me, which I felt was a bold move. This was, after all, avent-garde theatre (with the e and r reversed!). There might be nudity! There might be bad words! There might be fake blood that looks real that makes my eight year old cry! I fussed and fussed. But in the end, I didn’t have a sitter, so I took her along.

And it was marvelous. The conceit of the play was somewhat reminiscent of Vanya on 42nd Street, in which the audience is invited in to see a play as it’s being rehearsed – and by doing so, exposes the beams and struts of the story. There are pauses and breaks. The director forces the audience to look again – more deeply – into the nuances of ambition and greed, and the terrible curse of perceived deservedness. We feel Macbeth’s public shaming by the king, not once but twice. And his decent into madness is predicated, not by vice, but on the promise that the kingship is already his. He just has to take it. He deserves it. Poor, poor deceived fellow.

Now, the most interesting thing that the show does is its assertion that the three witches have a particular end in mind – and Macbeth is merely a pawn. Throughout the show they are stalking, manipulating, insinuating and pushing – not in word, of course, but in body. It is magic-made-physical, and it is glorious.

And the best part – my kids totally got it. I think if I had taken them to a full-on performance, they would have been bored out of their skulls. But this stripped-down version, with its intimacy and immediacy – this they got.

“I think I’d feel sorrier for Macbeth if he hadn’t started killing all those people,” my eight year old said. “Still, I feel a little sorry for him.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”

She thought about the play a little more, then asked: “And does Auntie Sheila have magical powers? Because it really seemed like she had magical powers. Actual ones.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m pretty sure she does.