A year ago, PCPA Theaterfest director Patricia M. Troxel found herself in fairy land, helming one of the most delightful, whimsical comedies known to theater— William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
This winter, she’s knee-deep in darkness and danger as the director of “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s gruesome tale of “murder most foul.”
“I’m genuinely flipping from the delight and charm of doing a Shakespeare comedy to this (tragedy),” said Troxel, who directed the modern comedy “Distracted” this past fall.
“One of the glories of theater is how many ways it lets us explore our humanity,” she said. “You can revel in the joy and the comic and then you can go through a journey about ambition.”
Few Shakespearean characters are more human than Macbeth, the resourceful Scottish thane whose ascent to power leaves a bloody trail of destruction and death.
His personal relationships —with his wife, close friend Banquo and political rivals Duncan, Malcolm and Macduff — are at the center of the play.
Corey Jones, who’s proven himself a powerful leading man in past productions of “Othello” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” stars as Lord Macbeth. Playing his enterprising wife is Elizabeth Stuart, most recently seen in “White Christmas” and “The Music Man.”
“They’re both really intuitive actors and they’re gifted actors, so that really helps in the process,” Troxel said.
Artistic Director Mark Booher, who doubles as fight coordinator, plays Banquo. Evans Eden Jarnefeldt is Macduff and John Battalino is the ill-fated king, Duncan.
Whereas other productions have cast Macbeth as the helpless tool of his social-climber spouse, Troxel said, “I’m not one of those people who believes in a powerful woman behind a weakling guy reaching for the throne.”
It’s clear to her that the Macbeths have a partnership, albeit one tainted by the loss of a child.
“They would not make the same choices if they weren’t the couple they are,” Troxel said.
Nor does the director credit Shakespeare’s “wyrd sisters” — the bearded hags who prophesy that Macbeth will be king and Banquo will bear kings—with influencing him unduly.
“If the witches just control everything then it strips the energy and excitement from what Macbeth does,” she explained, pointing out that Banquo has the same chance for greatness but follows a much different path. “Passivity is less interesting for an audience. We may pretend we slid into something but we much more rarely are the victim.”
Within the context of “Macbeth,” she said, the Bard invites us to examine how we would respond to such powerful motivators as fear, fate and the supernatural.
According to Troxel, depicting the many violent skirmishes in what is considered a notoriously bloody play presented another challenge. (The play is recommended for ages 12 and up.)
“I’ve been to many, many ‘Macbeths’ in my life, and the thing I always find missing is Macbeth’s understanding of the horror of the situation,” Troxel said.
Too many productions, she said, depict the Scottish thane as Arnold Schwarzenegger meting out medieval justice.
“All a sudden you’re on this power play. You’re watching Shakespeare’s version of ‘American Psycho,’ ” Troxel said. “It’s not just about the spectacle, but it’s about the tremendous cost of violence.”
“Macbeth’s” blend of graphic warfare and personal conflicts, which Troxel compared to “Saving Private Ryan,” also influenced her approach to set design.
Whereas the director and scenic designer Andrew Layton bathed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in exotic Indian tones, David Nofsinger’s set for “Macbeth” is visually grounded in the wild moors and mighty castles of Scotland, circa the ninth century A.D.
“I was interested in the way the natural world and the man-made world of stone interweave,” Troxel explained. She also used elements of an ancient Roman gladiatorial arena to reflect the tragedy’s contentious side.
Frederick P. Deeben’s historically inspired costumes recall the era with homespun and leather.
Troxel said she’s looking forward to sharing “Macbeth” with audiences.
“It’s wonderful to stretch the wings of the human soul like that,” she said.