22 June 2007

Nekkid Shakespeare

Here's a new way to market Shakespeare...

Staying Within Their Costume Budget: 'Macbeth' in the Flesh
By Jane Horwitz

Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 13, 2007;

One expects to witness naked human emotions in "Macbeth."

Naked actors, not so much.

Director Jose Carrasquillo has long harbored a vision of "the Scottish play" done with a small cast au naturel. He saw it as a way of exposing more than skin, of peeling back layers to reveal the play's dark, elemental magic and tribal roots. His idea will become a reality at
Washington Shakespeare Company, which will perform "Macbeth" tomorrow through July 15 at the Clark Street Playhouse in Arlington.

The 10 actors will wear only a little mud on their legs and perform on a triangular platform bordered by a "forest" of towering, Giacometti-style human figures. They were instructed to stop all shaving, waxing, tweezing or dyeing by May 1. No weight training, either.

Carrasquillo read the Macbeth saga as told in Raphael Holinshed's 1577 "Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland," presumed to be Shakespeare's primary source. "It was tremendous to read it. . . . I just felt that it was really raw and primal."

"From that and my connection to magic realism," Carrasquillo says, "I just have these images that really begin to guide the work." He started with an image of someone emerging naked from the witches' caldron and beginning to tell the story. Nakedness then became the key.

When auditions were held, actors were told of the director's vision. Some left. Those who were cast admit they had to test the strength of their belief in the concept. Kathleen Akerley, who plays Lady Macbeth, says she thought, "It will work if we're all hairy. If we're a groomed and airbrushed style of naked, it'll be misleading."

Daniel Eichner who plays the murderer/usurper Macbeth, also wasn't sure "if I wanted to spend 2 1/2 hours onstage absolutely naked." But after talking to Carrasquillo, Eichner says, he concluded "it clearly was not sexual, not titillating in any way."

Akerley says the nudity took a kind of three-step mental process: "Finding a way to look at naked people without invading their privacy"; wondering "after about five minutes, 'Okay, now what do we do with it?' "; and letting the nudity become "an interesting fact of vulnerable acting."

As for audiences, "some people will deal with it better than others," the director admits. "I believe they're going to have a visceral experience -- not because there are naked people onstage but because of the powerful story [and] how we're telling it. You know, it's a truly scary play."

No comments: