As you have often heard me say, some of the greatest films come from the theatre. Steeped in myth and legend, theatre dates back to the Greeks and Romans and while some of the most intriguing characters and plot lines (and slightly twisted themes and mores) are thousand of years old, perhaps the most famous plays, and definitely those with the most fable, legend and (GASP!) curses attached come from the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. And when you think Shakespeare, what pops into your mind first? The Merchant of Venice? Romeo & Juliet? Othello? Hamlet? Macbeth? For most of us, its probably Hamlet or Macbeth, and for actors about to take to the stage, it is undoubtedly Macbeth. Ask any stage actor about Macbeth. Or better yet “the curse of Macbeth.” They will tremble in their shoes. Knees will knock. They will look up to the heavens waiting for the klieg light to fall on their heads. And they will immediately start saying hundreds of “Hail Marys.” It seems time has cursed the name of Macbeth and it must never be spoken in a theatre lest tragedy befall the one who speaks that dreaded name.
At the time Shakespeare penned Macbeth, King James I was on the throne. In an effort to amuse, entertain and impress the King, a self-proclaimed authority on demonology (gee, and I thought it was Buffy Summers aka the Slayer), Shakespeare elected to insert a 17th spell from the black magicks in Macbeth’s Act IV. As if writing “Witching for Dummies”, Shakespeare provided step-by-step instructions for spell casting with the infamous words:
"Round around the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venum sleeping got.
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot"
But Shakespeare’s plan went awry. Not only did King James I despise the play, Shakespeare really ticked off all the witches, warlocks and ritual practitioners of the day. Not being ones to turn the other cheek, an “everlasting spell” was cast on the play dooming it to be ill-fated anytime it may be produced.
Now, I don’t know about you, but considering the fates history of Macbeth, there is something to the curse. At its very first performance in 1606, Shakespeare himself was forced to appear as Lady Macbeth when the young Hal Berridge had to bow out due to fever. Berridge died. In 1672 in Amsterdam, the actor playing Macbeth knowingly substituted a real dagger for the prop and killed Duncan on stage. Lady Macbeths have had their share of tragedy, too. In 1775, Sarah Siddons was ripped to pieces by an unhappy audience. 1926's performance caused Sybil Thorndike to be almost strangled on stage by a fellow actor and in 1948, a sleepwalking Diana Wynward walked off the rostrum falling 15 feet. Ouch. And if that isn’t bad enough, in 1849, a riot broke out during the play’s performance at New York’s Astor Place, where 31 people were trampled to death. Even Sir Laurence Olivier wasn’t immune to the curse as in 1937, a 25 pound stage weight crashed to the floor within inches of him followed by the breaking of his sword on stage when then flew into the audience striking a guest who later suffered a heart attack. Malcolm Keen went mute on stage on 1934 only to have his replacement Alister Sim develop a high fever and be hospitalized. At least he fared better than Hal Berridge. John Gielgud’s 1942 performance was plagued with the death of 3 actors plu the suicides of the costumer and set designer, both committed amidst the Macbeth sets. Even Moses himself was not immune when in 1953 Charlton Heston suffered burns to his groin and legs from tights that had been soaked in kerosene. And if that isn’t enough, in 1970, the play was cancelled because of an actor’s strike. In 1971, 2 fires and 7 robberies were the least of David Leary’s problems and in 1981 at the Lincoln Center, J. Kenneth Campbell who played Macduff, was mugged after the play opening.
And all because of the play Macbeth. As they say, never utter the name of “the Scottish Play” let you be doomed with bad luck.
So what happens in 2007 when science teacher Danny Teller steps into this fated legend? The answer - a brilliantly funny, entertaining, raucous, laugh-out loud, comedy-romantic comedy-supernatural thriller known as NEVER SAY MACBETH.
Danny Teller has for all intensive purposes been dumped by his girlfriend Ruth. A boring science teacher, Danny just wasn’t quite the fit for his actress girlfriend who gets the role of a lifetime in a Los Angeles production of Macbeth as none other than Lady Macbeth. Besides, she wants to be a star before she’s 30. With his heart on his sleeve, love and loss in his heart, Danny knows what he must do. Go after her. Leave Toledo, go west and reclaim your love. (And after all, the only great thing about Toledo is Max Klinger and even he got drafted to a MASH unit on Korea.)
Intent on surprising his beloved, Danny arrives at the theatre only to run into the director of the play. Pleading his case to the director about searching for his love, the director mistakenly believes Danny is there to audition and that his “performance” is his monologue. Impressed with Danny, the director casts him in the play as one of the witches. Oh, but did I mention that just before entering the stage area, Danny had asked some mingling actors if this was the place where the Macbeth auditions were being held. Oops. There’s that dreaded fear and trembling again! (Luckily there is a cleansing ritual for those that have mistakenly opened mouth and inserted “Macbeth.”)
Not an actor, Danny is mystified as to why he would be cast in the play but decides to take the role if for no other reason than to be close to Ruth and try to woo her back. But, given the Curse of Macbeth, and the fact that the course of true love never runs smooth, Ruth is now smitten was a former beau who is now a “television star” who just happens to have the lead in this play. *You know - honing his craft and all that. Gaining some respectability.)
As if the comedic fallout from Danny’s romantic entanglement isn’t enough, we have ghosts to contend with. Seems that back in the 1950's, a fire broke out at this very theatre while three plays were being performed - The Importance of Being Earnest, Pirates of Penzance, and of course, Macbeth. Buddying up to his cast members, and particularly the lovely Tamara, Danny learns of the legend, so it comes as no real surprise to him when he learns that once you have uttered “Macbeth”, whenever you turn on the stage lights, you can see ghosts. Not only can you see ghosts, you can communicate with them. And not only can you communicate, in some cases, you can even cross worlds and change the course of history - even when it comes to Macbeth. And did I mention, Danny’s still trying to win back Ruth?
Writer Joe Tyler Gold assumes the role of the beleaguered Danny with a vivacity and pitch perfect comedic timing. And interestingly, although a trained theatre actor, he does not believe in ghosts. You would never know it given his hilarious and believable performance here. Ilana Kira is divine as the self-centered, stardom driven Ruth. And not to be overlooked is Tania Getty as Tamara. With an innocent sweetness, she had me convinced I could see ghosts. The chemistry between Getty and Gold is undeniable and you can’t help but root for these “do-gooders” to not only change history but change each other, together. Tammy Caplan steps out of the shadows of tv extra and into the limelight here as Jeni. Alexander Enberg, best known as Ensign Vorik on “Star Trek: Voyager” had me in stitches with his take on play director, Jason. From his facial and physical expressiveness to dialogue delivery, he is on the main reasons for the hilarity of this film. And Mark Deklin as leading man Scott is not only terrific eye candy for the ladies but himself exhibits great comedic skills we so rarely have seen in his myriad of tv roles.
As screenwriter, Joe Tyler Gold is one to watch. He has a keen eye for comedy and strays away from conventionality, tossing in everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to ghosts and hauntings, but more importantly, drives the script with well written characters, both in principal and supporting roles. Gold creates a pantheon of enjoyment with some of the most minor details - like a Star Wars obsessed stage manager who changes her name to rhyme with “Jedi” or the appearance of a multiplicity of ghosts from several Shakespearean works. His applicability of Murphy’s Law to the actual stage production within the film has every disaster one could hope for and more. At first seeming a bit crowded, within the first 20 minutes or so, one becomes oblivious to the crowd and welcomes each and every character with comfortable ease.
Chris Prouty helms the hilarity with aplomb and vision. Shooting in an actual LA theatre and using theater veterans as his cast, he excels at showcasing stage craft while effortlessly blending it with the art of film. With minimal special and visual effects, but for a very entertaining animated sequence at the opening, the films moves with solid rapid pacing thanks to clever editing by Prouty and Stephen Butler. Some of the most fun scenes however, come from the ad-libbing by the actors themselves who it seems were given great latitude in creating their respective characters.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some rough patches that fall flat, but the comedic screwball elements carry it over the pitfalls and potholes with more ease and efficiency than a city repairs its streets.
Fun, funny, funnier, funniest farce I have seen in many a day. The Bard should be smiling down on this one. NEVER SAY MACBETH lifts the curse with laughter and sweetness. This is one time you should definitely say Macbeth.
Danny - Joe Tyler Gold
Ruth - Ilana Kira
Tamara - Tania Getty
Jason - Alexander Enberg
Scott - Mark Deklin
Directed by Christopher Prouty. Written by John Tyler Gold. (86 min)