Eric Ting respects superstitions, especially the one that says you can't say "Macbeth" aloud in a theater without dire consequences. ("The Scottish Play" is used instead.)
"I think superstition is a powerful force," says the fate-conscious Ting, associate artistic director of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, who may be testing his luck by taking the curse-ridden Shakespearean tragedy and giving it a dramatic makeover.
With "Macbeth 1969," which opens Wednesday, Jan. 25, Ting takes the classic tale of deadly ambition and the supernatural and sets it in a rehabilitation hospital in the American Midwest in the midst of the Vietnam War.
Making Ting's take even more extreme is the fact that five actors — playing two returning soldiers and three nurses — take on all the roles, while following the Bard's text.
"We've gone out of our way to take the supernatural out of 'Macbeth'," says Ting during a break from rehearsals in a downtown New Haven coffee shop.
Ting, who turns 39 this week, says he — and artistic director Gordon Edelstein — didn't want to do a small-cast Shakespeare production unless there was a good reason.
"Most of the conversations about the play always seem to center on the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and their marital partnership around power and ambition," Ting says.
But he was interested in the Bard's shortest play from the perspective of Macbeth and his fellow soldier, Banquo. At the play's beginning, the two are returning home from a victorious battle when they encounter three prophetic witches on the heath, "which to me, represents a kind of crossroads." The [adaptation] would take off from that scene with two physically and psychologically wounded Vietnam-era soldiers arriving at a rural facility, probably in the town where they are from.
In Ting's version of the opening scene of "Macbeth" (a report to King Duncan about the feats of war), the two soldiers share battle stories, followed by a flirtation with three nurses and a telegram arriving saying Macbeth has been named Thane of Cawdor. One of the nurses is married, or had been, to Macbeth.
Macbeth's later murder of Banquo is mirrored in the adaptation by the death of the wounded soldier, which leaves Macbeth with survivor's guilt that triggers a fevered dream, followed by electro-convulsive therapy which launches the narrative of the second half of the play
"We haven't added anything to the text," says Ting. Some scenes have been edited.
The production's concept allows the theater to engage with veterans' groups, hospitals and physicians, such as David Reed Johnson, co-director of the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven who worked for many years as a drama therapist at the VA hospital in West Haven. Ting also consulted with Linda Schwartz, commissioner of the state's Department of Veterans Affairs
"We're trying to make sure the adaptation has authenticity or at least one that has been researched," Ting says.
He acknowledges concerns of perpetuating stereotypes of the Vietnam veteran who returns home unable to cope with re-entry into civilian life, goes crazy and commits acts of violence.
"We're doing the play and it has some controversial elements when seen through this particular lens," says Ting. "We understand that. But what we want to do is make sure we're engaging with what's happening in the country now and making people aware of post traumatic stress today."
Tings says he has learned that only a small percentage of returning vets are making use of the resources available to them because they are unaware of them, they are unwilling to admit they have a problem or are unwilling to ask for help.
"The third is a big one," says Ting, "and so we're doing a post-traumatic stress campaign around the production. Ten tickets are released free at every performance for veterans and families of veterans. "We only ask if they could stay for the talk-back after the show."
The theater also features a "Sparks" program, led by Ting, which began last year, where 50 people follow the evolution of the production of the play from reading, to rehearsals to opening night.