PARTNERS OF GREATNESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MACBETHS (ANGELA PIRKO & RENEA BROWN)

I had the opportunity to sit down with Angie Pirko and Renea Brown, who are playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively, in Theatre Prometheus’ upcoming production of [all-lady] Macbeth. In this interview, we had the chance to discuss performing these iconic roles in the context of an all-woman production.

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 Angela Pirko (Macbeth) and Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) in rehearsal.

Angela Pirko (Macbeth) and Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) in rehearsal.

Caitlin Partridge: To start things off, let me ask you both: What has your experience been with the process so far?

Angela Pirko: Intense. I mean, it’s one of the most iconic roles in all Shakespeare and also one I didn’t really ever believe I’d get a chance to play. This whole process has been part terror and part dream come true.

Renea Brown: To say “challenging” is a respectful understatement. I say that because of the character that I’m playing. The fact that I got cast as Lady M is a surprise in and of itself! But the process of rehearsing mainly with Angie and Tracey [Erbacher, director]  has been interesting. I’ve never had rehearsals where it’s just me and whoever my character spends the most time with and I like that. Angie and I kind of built this relationship and energy so quickly. It wasn’t an awkward thing that had to be forced. She politely asked if she could touch me at one point and then it just sort of took off. I’m surprised at how easy it was for me to trust her.

CP: This is an all-woman production. Angie, is this your first all-woman show?

AP: Not by a long shot. I directed an all-female show for Nu Sass Productions, and I was also in Riot Grrls’ Titus Andronicus with Taffety Punk a few years back—that’s actually where I met Tracey.

CP: What about you, Renea?

RB: Yes, this is my first all-woman show.

CP: What has it been like for you both to work with an all-woman cast?

RB: It’s so interesting to watch how women can attack this work that has been written by and for men. If men knew how women thought and if women knew how men thought, this would be boring. But because we don’t understand each other completely, we bring a complex energy to the work, to the text, and that adds an extra layer of brilliance to the show.

AP: It’s been amazing. Completely wonderful. But I don’t think that’s necessarily because it’s all-women—it’s because of who we are as individuals. Being female is just a part of what makes this team perfect to take on these roles. This cast is a dream and everyone is in as talented as all hell, not because of or in spite of their genders. They just are that good. Plus, talking freely about women’s issues and everyone’s a feminist? Talk about a safe rehearsal space.

 Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) in rehearsal.

Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) in rehearsal.

CP: Renea, you’re one of only two women in the cast playing a woman in the show. What’s that been like?

RB: It’s weird, but I mean that in a good way. The work the other cast members have done with their bodies in taking on men makes me evaluate how my body moves in space. It also gives me more to work with because I think Lady M is often played with high sexual intensity, and yes, that sexual tension is there, but what helps me in the process (when I’m working at home) is thinking if I had to convince Angie, not Macbeth, that I wanted her to do these things, what tactics would I use?

CP: And Angie, you’re playing Macbeth as a man, correct?

AP: Yes. I have played men before countless times, since high school Shakespeare productions. Perk and curse of being in the 99th percentile height-wise for most of your life.

CP: So has anything surprised you about playing this man in particular?

AP: How much I find myself liking the man. There’s a man beneath the monster—getting to the core of why he does what he does has been intensely exciting.

CP: So why does he do what he does? Many discussions of Macbeth (the character) focus on what pushed him to the tyrant he becomes by end of the play—whether it was the witches, his wife, fate, or something inside him all along. What do you think?

AP: A little of all of the above, and then perhaps with a dash of fate thrown in. Catastrophes don’t occur and monsters don’t happen randomly—it’s always the perfect blend of elements that leads to monstrosity. Macbeth at the end of the play comes from who he is innately, absolutely—but it’s the chemical reaction with his love of his wife, the tipping of the scales with the witches, and countless other factors of the world in which he lives, that give us the tragedy and the man we know as the villain.

 Angela Pirko (Macbeth) in rehearsal.

Angela Pirko (Macbeth) in rehearsal.

CP: I did want to ask about your relationship with your wife. It’s so central to the play, and, in my opinion, one of the strongest romantic partnerships Shakespeare wrote (until it all goes horribly wrong, of course). How do you see this relationship?

AP: She is everything to Macbeth. I think he is just in awe of her—she’s smart, she’s charming, she’s cunning, she’s devastating. She truly is his “partner in greatness.” It gets to the point in my mind that he begins to leave her out of decisions out of trying to protect her—because of him and his weakness, she ended up with blood on her hands (literally), so he’s going to damn well make sure that she never has blood there again. Unfortunately that ends up… not working out too well for them. Working with Renea has been amazing; she and I have been completely on board with what the one means to the other from day one.

CP: What about you, Renea? Is this similar to how you see their relationship?

RB: For me, I think it’s one of the strongest representations of a relationship. Two people who are literally willing to do anything to anyone to give each other what they want and what they need. Those aren’t always the healthiest characteristics, but this is an addictive kind of love. I think their mental connection is much stronger than their sexual (and I’m not speaking for Angie, I’m speaking for myself) and I think that is what makes them so interesting. And then how the relationship shifts is interesting because the tables have turned and the one we thought could handle everything… well, I won’t give it away... :-)

CP: Right, no spoilers! But this does touch on one of the central plot points: the descent into madness (arguably) of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. And there’s this unfortunately prevalent stereotype of Lady M. as a nagging, evil wife who pushes her poor defenseless husband to murder. But from what I’ve seen of your performance, you’re taking a much different (and much more nuanced) approach to the role. Could you talk about how you see her?

RB: I see her as a human. We don’t come out of the womb with a mustache and a swivel chair and an evil muwahaha laugh. And she’s boring that way, if she’s evil at the start… there is no roller coaster for us as an audience to enjoy. She’s a wife and she knows what her husband wants. One of my journeys with Lady M is, okay, I can’t give him a son, which is important to him, so what is it that I CAN give my man? This opportunity [to murder Duncan] presents itself, and he tells me about it, so I make my decision. And, like I said, she isn’t just born evil, she has to ask, she has to call on spirits to remove her remorse and care and replace it with “direst cruelty.” And he wants it, he wants that crown, and so do I, but he needs a little help getting it. He isn’t poor and defenseless, my man is a great soldier—a warrior, if you will. But I think she’s human and she wants the best for him and she’s willing to do anything for her husband.

 Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) and Angela Pirko (Macbeth) in rehearsal.

Renea Brown (Lady Macbeth) and Angela Pirko (Macbeth) in rehearsal.

CP: Finally, let me ask you both: What do you hope audiences take away from this production?

RB: I hope audiences continue to suspend their belief for the theatre. I hope they get lost and enjoy a production full of strong, motivated women. We are living in a time when people are trying to monitor and control what women do with and to their bodies, and this production is throwing a middle finger to them and saying we are here to break the rules -- and us little ol' women are going to show you how to do a "man’s job."

AP: I hope they take away a great show.

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[all-lady] MACBETH will be performed April 14 - 30 at the Anacostia Arts Center. Click here for tickets, and be sure to like Theatre Prometheus on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all Prometheus news and events!