March 25, 2005
Out, damned spot!
In this production of 'Macbeth,' gay men are king
According to Batman, criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. Hence his appearance, designed to strike fear into the hearts of the guilty.
Actors and other theater professionals might not be cowardly, but there is a certain vein of superstition running through the stage world.
One of the oldest theater superstitions is the curse upon the play Macbeth, so potent that even mentioning the name of “the Scottish play” in a theater can cause disaster to befall someone on whose ears the name of Macbeth falls.
Somehow, though, it remains one of the most popular of William Shakespeare’s plays, and Ovation Theater Company in Cincinnati will show audiences why that is so with a stripped-down production running April 1 to 16.
In addition to costumes that are almost completely neutral in terms of time period, there is no scenery and few props, all to remove the distraction of the audience thinking, “Oh, this happened hundreds of years ago.”
Also notable in the production are two kings portrayed by gay men, while another rules backstage.
Joe Stollenwerk, the director, points to the powerful relationship between Macbeth and his wife as one of the reasons he wanted to do the show.
“I’m always drawn to his plays that have strong or well-written women characters or visceral relationships between men and women,” he said. “Some of Shakespeare’s plays are just 87 heterosexual men being heterosexual, and maybe two women who have one percent of the lines.”
“But Macbeth has this great relationship between the title character and his wife,” Stollenwerk continued. “It reminds me very much of Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, incidentally a gay playwright who proved you don’t have to be straight to know a whole lot about marriage.”
“What drama queen wouldn’t like Shakespeare?” joked Joe Hornbaker, who portrays the doomed king Duncan, slain by Macbeth in the title character’s quest for power. “The themes that run through his work are still humanity’s business 400 years later. Ambition, greed, desire, redemption, folly--they’re all there. And that’s why audiences are still coming to see his plays.”
“What I particularly enjoy about Macbeth is its sense of excitement. Macbeth is the shortest of all the tragedies, it’s tightly wound, and the plot spins from the very first moment,” Hornbaker noted. “If the play has a drawback, it’s that it can be relentless. There’s only one humorous scene in the whole play. The rest is darkness, both real and metaphysical.”
Portraying Malcolm, Duncan’s older son and eventual successor to the throne, is Michael Monks, seen recently in Know Theater Tribe’s production of Streamers.
“What I love most about Macbeth is the strength shown by so many of the good guys in the story,” Monks said. “There is a clear villain, and while you may find moments of sympathy, his evil cannot be overlooked.”
Monks touched on the problem many people have with the works of the Bard.
“There is a major language barrier that often inhibits certain potential audience members from even considering a trip to the theater,” he noted. “I am a college graduate and work in journalism and there are times when I am like, ‘What did I just say? I hope it was naughty’.”
“As I learn to analyze the text more deeply, there are lots of sexual references that may offend even a modern audience. But it’s clever, and genuine, and never gratuitous,” Monks said. “The sexuality in Shakespeare isn’t dirty, it’s sexy.”
While scholars have speculated that Shakespeare was bisexual, Hornbaker believes that he was fascinated by the role of gender in society.
“Many of his female characters cross-dress, and the resulting confusion is used to comment on the state of the human heart,” he said. “In Macbeth, the idea of what it means to ‘be a man’ is repeatedly invoked. Lady Macbeth calls upon the heavens to ‘unsex’ her so she can carry out her murderous intentions.”
With death, destruction, mayhem, witchcraft and the inclusion of scenes with Hecate, the queen of the witches--often left out of modern productions--Macbeth should prove a happy reunion for the trio, who worked together on Ovation’s production of Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey last year, with Monks as Jeffrey, Horbaker as Sterling and Stollenwerk directing.
Macbeth also stars, among others, Jeff Groh as the title character, Andrea Sayre-Brook in her Cincinnati debut as Lady Macbeth and Chris Guthrie as Macbeth’s foil Banquo.
Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays from April 1 to 16 at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $16, $14 for seniors and $12 for students and children.
A special “pay what you can” preview performance will be held on Thursday, March 31 at 8 pm.
The production is at the Fifth Third Bank Theater in the Aronoff Center, Main Street and Seventh in downtown Cincinnati. Tickets can be purchased online at www.cincinnatiarts.org or by calling 513-6212787. More information about Ovation Theater Company is available by calling 513-3691544, at www.cincinnatiovation.com, or via email at email@example.com.