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‘Macbeth’ star, director open up about bringing Shakespeare to Beloit stage

“Double double, toil and trouble…”

So say William Shakespeare’s Three Weird Sisters, whose words aptly describe the tremendous preparation currently under way for this year’s production of Macbeth, directed by John Kaufmann. Kaufmann’s cast and crew have been working on Macbeth for the better part of the semester now and, with opening night less than a week away, rehearsals are ramping up. Despite their horrifyingly busy schedules — regicide is time consuming work — both Kaufmann and Kerry Randazzo’20, who stars as the titular Macbeth, graciously managed to make time to share their thoughts on the play and its process with The Round Table.

Macbeth is the second Beloit play that Randazzo has appeared in, his first being fall semester’s excellent and heartbreaking Intimate Apparel. It will be the second time that he’s taken on a Shakespeare production; his initial go-round was a high school turn as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Randazzo’s semester has been entirely consumed by Macbeth and its director — he’s “taking every class that John Kaufmann’s teaching right now,” which includes an acting class, a directing class and a class dedicated to the play. He also works in the costume department.

This full submersion is beginning to seep into Kerry’s life in an insidious fashion; just as Macbeth hallucinates Banquo’s ghost at a banquet, Randazzo has seen a phantom of his director in his room. “The other night,” he said, “I was lying awake in bed but I couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t in rehearsal, and I thought that John was in rehearsal giving me notes. I was like ‘John, I’m sorry I’m in my underwear right now, I don’t know why!’”

A hallucinatory episode isn’t the only thing that ties Randazzo to the eventual King of Scotland. The actor said that he identifies with “the indecision [Macbeth] faces at certain points” as well as “the needing to be pushed into action. He’s anxious too,” continued Randazzo. “He really lets his mind run away with itself self-destructively.”

Trying to fill Macbeth’s big Scottish shoes is a task that would fill anyone with anxiety. Randazzo, describing rehearsal of Macbeth’s famous “Out, out, brief candle” speech, said that “Some nights it’s hard not to feel silly saying it because how are you ever gonna do that justice?”

It’s a speech and a role that’s challenged numerous actors, including Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Alan Cumming, Orson Welles and Michael Fassbender. It’s an intimidating club, but Randazzo seems ready to join its ranks. During a Friday night social gathering, someone fortuitously requested a rendition of the monologue and Randazzo obliged in humble but impressive fashion. According to Shakespeare, alcohol “provokes the desire but takes away the performance.” It certainly seems as though the wine in the room, combined with Kerry’s acting, provoked the desire of those present to see the play in its entirety, but I don’t think that’s quite what the Bard was talking about.

If Randazzo’s acting prowess isn’t enough of a selling point, there is always John Kaufmann. Kaufmann directed the fantastic Baby With The Bathwater last semester and all signs point towards Macbeth being equally impressive. Kaufmann is a genial and astounding speaker, whose words are weighed carefully but rapidly delivered. It’s clear that he’s thought deeply about the play and it’s exciting to hear him talk about it. This is the first time he’s directed the Scottish play, though he tested the Shakespearean waters  by directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few years ago.

When he directed Midsummer, Kaufmann found himself thinking, “Wow, this is a comedy and it’s got some really dark themes in it.” Now, working with Macbeth, he’s found that while it’s “a dark tragedy about evil,” there’s a lot of “fun and playfulness” in its world.

This multiplicity of moods is important for Kaufmann, who has worked hard to make sure that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth aren’t shackled into one-dimensional portrayals of evil. “If we dismiss things as evil,” said Kaufmann, “or say ‘Oh, Lady Macbeth is so crazy,’…anything dismissive in theater is not what I’m interested in.”

A notable factor in this project of complication and humanization is the relationship dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth will be played by Olivia Love-Hatlestad’20, who had a fantastic turn in Bathwater as the wife in a comically unhealthy marriage.

Here, however, she’s playing the wife in what English Professor Matt Vadnais called “an exemplary couple.” Kaufmann said that Vadnais spoke to his Macbeth class about the character’s marriage on Valentine’s Day, saying that “In all of Shakespeare’s plays, they’re one of the more healthy relationships. They support each other, they want each other to be successful, they don’t complain about each other behind each other’s back.” One can certainly critique their actions and motivations, but it’s hard to deny that they’re a compelling power couple.

Every power couple needs behind-the-scenes support, and Randazzo and Love-Hatlestad have that in spades. Macbeth is a monstrous production, far removed from the small team intimacy of Baby With the Bathwater, and Kaufmann was quick to acknowledge the numerous (and in some cases unconventional) positions involved during our interview: “There’s a student who’s the witch choreographer (Ruth McLeod’17), a student fight captain (Ruby Green’20)…”

Julia Formanek’17 and Sasha Oines’20 are the stage manager and assistant stage manager respectively, and Stacy Canzoneri’18 is the assistant director. (For a more in-depth look behind the scenes of production there’s an excellent video on YouTube called “Beloit College Macbeth: Work,” directed by Katylyn Frew’18.)

“In some ways,” said Kaufmann, “if I can keep all the balls in the air and keep everybody focused on the play, and harness their energy, that’s doing most of my job as a director in this case.”

Macbeth is arriving on campus at an auspicious moment in our current political climate, though Kaufmann said he selected the play (which was proposed by set designer and professor Chuck Drury) prior to Donald Trump’s election. He said, however, that one thing that helped him “get through the tough time after the election was thinking, ‘Well, at least we’re doing a play about a political maniac who gets out of control.’” He added that the play’s relevance has helped to “focus energy” for the director and his cast.

Regardless of one’s political inclinations, Macbeth endures as a timeless yet topical drama. It’s a story open to modernization and interpretation, and Kaufmann and crew seem well suited to present an engaging take on it.

Macbeth premieres Thursday, April 20.

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