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Everyone Into the Pool--for ‘Megabeth’

A listener senses in writer/director Paul Silverman someone refreshingly at odds with the self-promoting artist’s machine. Rather than talk about himself, Silverman made it clear he would rather refer his guest to his collaborators on the large-scale experimental play, “Megabeth,” his personal take on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

“But you see,” corrected the 28-year-old Silverman, “that’s just it. It’s not only mine. This belongs to the entire company. The play is an attempt at finding the sources of violence and megalomania on one hand--which is Megabeth and his ego--and its conflicts with nonviolence, so we tried to remove egos from the making of this play.

“My ego has already been fed enough with this show, so that’s why I’m going to Japan.”

But Silverman didn’t mean a vacation to the East. Rather, he plans to return to a Zen monastery where he was a yearlong disciple during his college days.

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Before a monkish existence takes over the theater man in him, though, Silverman is preparing to transfer “Megabeth” to New York. “Some people who saw the show and loved it told me that it was a natural for New York. I just got word from them that they found this big indoor swimming pool in SoHo, right near PS 122.”

That’s right: a swimming pool . Through Sunday, the L.A. version of “Megabeth” fills an empty indoor pool adjoining the Sunset Landmark Building in Hollywood.

“In the limited amount of time (4 to 5 weeks) that we had to put this show on,” he said, “there were a great many hard decisions to make. I wanted the pool as a performing space, but the white surface would make it impossible to light. So we had to cover it with something. We found large sheets of dark plastic that worked perfectly.

“I love making theater in big industrial cities,” remarked the Pittsburgh native, sitting on the porch of his frame house in Silver Lake. “You can find material in these towns--like these rolls of plastic--and use them in a completely different way from what they were originally intended for.”

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The director loves the plastic material, but also sees it as the perfect medium for Megabeth--in his view “a hungry industrial capitalist killing more and more people in his endless pursuit of more and more useless product.”

Silverman was reluctant to let too much praise collect around his name, so he emphasized the play’s contradictions and conflicts instead of its meaning. That desire doubtless stems from his background, a mixture of an orthodox Jewish upbringing and the Zen Buddhist influences of his adult life.

“I know people are coming out scratching their heads. I’m aware, too, of the play’s problems. They haven’t been resolved. Not at all. But I’m not going to give audiences answers to the play’s mysteries, either. It’s the same approach I used with the cast. ‘What does this mean?’ they asked. I said, ‘Let’s find out together, because there isn’t one meaning.’ Besides, the questions are more interesting.”

Mark Bringelson, who portrays Megabeth, found that the question he had to answer was how to humanize the monarch, who is ultimately more sinister than Shakespeare’s original creation.

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"(Doing) that has always been the fight for me with this part,” he said. “Richard Nixon was like him: He enacted all sorts of self-destructive measures, not realizing their large scope and impact.

“When I first read Paul’s script,” Bringelson added, “I thought that it was the work of a strong-willed person who would direct it within an inch of its life. Instead, Paul encourages us to find new things each night, as long as they fall within the basic framework. I’ve never been involved with a show that was this free, where the cast must take responsibility.”

“Megabeth” music director Albhy Galuten seems to admire this approach as much as Bringelson. But he also suggested that it has resulted in “some wonderful and some not-so-wonderful performances,” especially early in the run.

“Now, I think the pulls and tensions in the piece are much clearer. Musically, I approached it as a contemporary tale, about how we lead lives where we go out jogging, then drink six cups of coffee at the office.”

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Silverman recognizes that tension within himself. “I love the late-night L.A. life, and rock ‘n’ roll. My sense of humor tends to be very cynical. At the same time, I’m trying to lead a simpler, more spiritual life.”

This from a fellow who garnered his graduate drama degree at Carnegie-Mellon University in one year instead of two and taught classes and worked a part-time job and ran a Pittsburgh-based experimental theater.

All of which sounds like the profile of an overachiever. Is a “simpler life” possible?

“I’m already doing it. But I have to go back to the (Zen) monastery. My master told me that I wasn’t ready to leave. It took a few years to realize that he was right.”

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