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In This Macbeth, the Witches Are Everywhere

Date: Nov 19, 2013


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In Lincoln Center Theater's current Broadway revival of Macbeth, there's no doubt that terrible magic is afoot. In scene after scene, the witches stand in for minor characters, observing and just maybe controlling Macbeth's murderous ascent to power and eventual descent into ruin. And even though no one on stage notices that a witch has, say, replaced a soldier on the battlefield, we're always aware of the interloping.

"It's their world that this play happens in," says actress Francesca Faridany. "It's not in Macbeth's world. It's their world, and he tips over to it in the very beginning. And I think that changes everything. It makes it a dark, freaky, paranoid place to be."

It matters, too, that Faridany is even in the cast. The three famous witches, who give Macbeth riddling oracles about his destiny to become king of Scotland, are all played by men: Malcolm Gets, John Glover, and Byron Jennings. Faridany plays the goddess Hecate, the queen of the witches and a devotee of chaos.

Typically, Hecate is cut from contemporary productions. By keeping her in, director Jack O'Brien lets us hear the fascinating speech where she chides the witches for talking to Macbeth without her, then correctly predicts that his foolish belief in his own immortality will lead to his doom. Since it's the witches themselves who subtly convince Macbeth he can't be killed, Hecate's declaration is even more vicious.

But that's not to say that she and her minions force Macbeth (Ethan Hawke) and Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) to murder King Duncan or rule like tyrants. Arguably, a righteous soul will never give in to temptation. "I almost think it's an animal thing of smelling out somebody who's just susceptible enough to want to follow through on his impulses," says Faridany. "Along the way, there are various decisions we can make about what we're doing---about, 'Did I make this happen?'"

For all their influence, however, the actors playing the witches stress that the characters are not just magical creatures. "We're all trying to be humans," says Glover. "We maybe have some supernatural powers, but we're human beings." For instance, when Glover's witch steps in for a porter, we can see his very human irritation at having to perform menial tasks.

He adds that when the witches overtake these characters, it only "strengthens the power of the magic. It makes the magic feel more potent, I think, for a modern audience."

Malcolm Gets says playing smaller roles changes his understanding of the production. "My favorite thing about the show is all the time that I'm on stage observing," he explains. "It's a great thrill to be in all of those scenes and to know in my imagination that I am not like everybody else in the room. I don't know how much anybody in the audience pays attention to that, but it helps me come in with a very specific agenda."

Asked if there's a scene he especially enjoys watching, he says, "When Macbeth goes crazy in the banquet scene, I absolutely love it. Everybody is so horrified, and in my mind, it's everything I secretly wanted."


Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor

Photos by T. Charles Erickson