A Matter of Execution in Macbeth

Let's get something straight; you won't leave this season's revival of Macbeth, playing at the Barrymore Theater until July 14th, understanding exactly what the hell is going on. With one actor performing all the principal characters, no matter how talented that one actor is (and I'm sure no one doubts Alan Cumming's talent), select character moments and dialogue fall flat just by virtue of the show's complicated set-up. It's worth saying, but Macbeth being staged in an insane asylum with one actor playing all the parts is one of the most ambitious concepts for a production I have ever heard of. The execution is troublesome, understandably so, but it is a valiant effort.

That isn't to say that Macbeth is a complete bust. There are moments in the show where Cumming's physical investment in the characters and his natural charisma really leap off the stage. Just as you may be zoning out and have no idea what character he is or should be playing and pondering which frozen yogurt place you want to visit after the show, he certainly has the stage presence and energy to keep your attention.

The best aspect of the production is when John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg's direction supersede the show. The use of televisions featuring security camera feeds from multiple angles allow the show to have fun with the lighting design - at the very least, it is intriguing. In one particularly clever scene, the stage goes pitch black and the monitors go all night-vision and serve as the audience's only sight into the stage. 

To go off of that, my hands-down favorite scene of the show (and one of the most striking of the entire season) is when Macbeth is visited by the Ghost of Banquo. It is a harrowing image to glance at the monitors and see a ghost enter the frame…and then avert your eyes back at the stage and that figure is not there in the form of some ghost-like dressed actor. It injects more of a horror-film feel then that of Shakespeare, but then again, it's Macbeth…which by Shakespearian tragedy standards, is probably the most akin to a modern day horror film. In fact, "modern" is certainly an operative word as this Macbeth is about as updated as I can imagine.

You won't hear me scoffing that this show didn't receive any Tony nominations and it does little to upend the notion that these one-person do-it-all productions have their limitations. And after seeing the show, I wished that I had read the original text another sixteen times so you can follow along with the story (or getting a headache). But Macbeth does make for one interesting night of theater and it is hard not to leave the show applauding the risks that they took and Cumming's effort in doing the seemingly impossible.

Tickets Provided by the Production

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

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