Jack Be Nimble is the title of the very engaging book that Jack O'Brien, the director of Macbeth, published over the summer. And, over the past month, O'Brien has certainly been nimble - and amusing and inspiring - in the rehearsal room. But as the production climbed upstairs from LCT's basement to what baseball, referring to players moving from minor to major leagues, calls "The Show" - in this instance, the Vivian Beaumont Theater - O'Brien ceded the mic to Tripp Phillips, the production stage manager. It is on his shoulders that the production now settles.
After the actors eased themselves into a bank of seats in the right side of the orchestra, for the first of a week-plus of tech rehearsals, Phillips exhorted them: "I can't stress enough the importance of safety, safety, safety. Be careful moving about the stage until you've gotten your bearings."
Looking at the set behind Phillips, I could easily see why his warning in this case was not perfunctory. The round disc downstage was a beautiful polished floor of blackness, and the vast upstage area included two monumental slabs of blackness. How would actors find their way around such an environment? As I savored Scott Pask's stunning design, and reminded myself that light and sound would make the space come brilliantly alive and help guide the actors, I recalled a sentence in "Norwegian Wood," a Haruki Murakami novel that I happened to have read last week: 'If you're in pitch blackness, all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark."
As Phillips and his team made first-tech announcements - about where to find all the basics in the house - my mind drifted to thoughts of the costumes of Catherine Zuber - to lapse into fashionspeak: they're all about texture - that I had just seen on rack after rack in the hallways backstage. I hoped that the actors would have as much fun wearing them as I had had perusing them. But I'm not sure the cast was all that focused yet on fitting into boots and skirts and tunics. They were too busy finding their dressing rooms, and, in a few cases, wheeling into them suitcases full of useful items. Richard Burton once said that doing a play or movie is like being onboard ship for a few months, hoping the vessel sails rather than sinks. But watching the "Macbeth" actors and their luggage I thought of the first day as more like checking into a hotel.
Whatever one's metaphor, O'Brien, back amongst the meeting in the Beaumont, told the cast that tech was "going to be tedious."
"It is also," he continued, "going to be thrilling."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com