As I was milling around the lobby of the Beaumont during intermission on New Year's Eve, I saw a couple of young women wearing what appeared to be oversized hats for the holiday. Upon closer examination, they turned out not to resemble what newly installed Gotham mayor Bill de Blasio's daughter, Chiara, wore to her father's swearing-in later that same night but honest-to-badness witches hats.
Enchanted by their brims, I walked over to the women and told them how much I admired their headgear. "We were worried about wearing them to the theater," said the taller of the pair, a blonde called Caroline Williams. "But we were very careful to buy seats in the last row of the orchestra, so we wouldn't be obstructing anyone's view."
The other woman, Marianne Thompson, told me that the two were best friends, visiting New York from Seattle. "We've always wanted to come to New York for the Christmas-to-New-Year's week, and now we've done it."
Thompson's sister, Julie, is an amateur milliner, and she created the hats, which I'm ashamed to say I didn't photograph. (I lack the Instagram gene.) Williams's was a midnight-blue with a traffic-cone top and wide brim. Thompson's was smaller and more elegant, and completely black - it matched the production they were watching.
"My sister made them for a party we went to a few months ago," Thompson said, "and when we knew we would be seeing Macbeth in New York, we decided to bring them along. We also thought they'd add a festive touch for the holiday, although they are more Halloween than New Year's Eve, I guess."
Neither of the women confessed to being especially keen on Shakespeare. "We read several of the plays in school," said Williams, who works as a paralegal back home. "But we don't go to the theater often. We're more movie buffs than theater buffs - especially movies about witches."
And their favorite movies in that genre? "Well, of course we've seen 'The Blair Witch Project,'" said Thompson, who works in a high-end women's clothing shop. "And 'The Witches of Eastwick.' And I really love 'Rosemary's Baby.' Did you know that they're remaking that as a TV miniseries?" I admitted that I did.
"Yesterday, we walked over to see the Dakota, where 'Rosemary's Baby' is set," said Williams. "There was a group of Japanese tourists outside, saying 'John Lennon, John Lennon.' For us it was, 'Mia Farrow, Mia Farrow.'"
Williams and Thompson both said that they liked seeing the witches played by men. "In all the movie versions," said Williams, citing the version by 'Rosemary's Baby' director, Roman Polanski, as her favorite, "the witches are played by women. I think the men in this production work surprisingly well."
"A woman in front of us," said Thompson, "whispered during the first scene tonight that men couldn't be witches: they would have to be warlocks. But that's wrong. A male witch is called a Witch. It's an insult to call a male witch a Warlock."
Added Williams: "It's amazing how ignorant people are about witches."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com