Monday, April 22, 2013

theatre review MACBETH, Broadway, April 16

Alan Cumming is giving a tour de force performance on Broadway in Shakespeare's Macbeth.  This production is an abridged version of the play that is basically Cumming in a one man performance where he inhibits more than a dozen characters in this tale of murder and terror as Macbeth makes his power play to become King.  It officially opened last night and while it is an ambitious production it doesn't quite all come together in the end.

Speaking almost entirely in his native Scottish language that provides a rich and emotional connection to the Scotland setting of the play, Cumming never leaves the stage for the 100 minute one act version of Shakespeare's tragedy.  When the play begins we find Cumming on an examination table in a psychiatric facility with a doctor and attendant administering medication while removing his clothing and placing them in large bags that say "Evidence" on them.  Many questions come to mind: why is he here?  He has blood splattered on his neck and torso so what exactly is up with those large "Evidence" bags?  But did he kill someone or was he the victim?  Why is he in an insane asylum and not a prison?   These are many questions that remain unanswered throughout the play.  While it might be that directors John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg were hoping to inspire conversations by audience members for them to make their own decisions about what exactly is going on, they don't give us enough information to even begin to have a dialogue.

The surroundings are creepy and atmospheric as if out of a psychological horror film from the 1960's. Merle Hensel's stark and sterile green tiled set, the creepy music from Max Richter, atmospheric lighting by Natasha Chivers and moody sound design by Fergus O'Hare all combine to give anyone a chilling sense of the willies.  The set alone could be used on off nights to film any number of classic horror films.

There are also some nice creative elements used to bring the characters of the play to life including the use of a wheelchair to become the throne of King Duncan, a doll left behind from a former patient becomes Duncan's son and heir to the throne and a small child's sweater is used most effectively to portray a young victim.  A bathtub and sink are also most effectively used to provide various prop pieces and a towel and mirror are ingeniously used as a way for Cumming to not only easily move from one character to another, with the simple movement of the towel, but via the mirror it gives him a way to have a conversation between two characters.

But the most creative element is the use of three large tv screens over the stage to provide black and white images from the security cameras in the room.  This is an excellent way for Cumming to become the various characters in Shakespeare's classic tragedy, most effectively the three witches, as each camera is from a different angle and thereby gives us a different angle to view Cumming and with the twist of his body and the use of the screens he can literally be all three witches right in front of us on the three screens.  Those tv screens also provide some of the most chilling elements of this production.  Videographer Ian William Galloway has effectively incorporated pre-filmed footage into the production so watch closely when they are on and you will sometimes see other characters on the screens that aren't in front of you on the stage.  It is reminiscent of the Paranormal Activity series of films where found video footage contains ghosts and other spooky happenings, but when it takes place right in front of you it is especially eerie.

But this production all comes down to Cumming.  And while his performance is technically stellar we are still left with so many questions that the total is much less than the sum of the parts.  Is Cumming's character possessed by the characters in the play?  Is he schizophrenic?  Does he have multiple personality disorder and each character is a part of him? Or did he just see a bad version of Macbeth in his past and what ever traumatic thing happened to him has now made him reenact the play out in his own way?  The edited down version of the Shakespeare text also doesn't fully give anyone who isn't that familiar with the play a true understanding of the plot.  The inclusion of a synopsis of the play in the Playbill is a good thing. But since they've already edited down the play and changed the setting, why they thought there was no need to add a few additional lines of dialogue to help the audience better understand what the point of this production is is beyond me.  It is a missed opportunity that would have elevated Cumming's impressive bravura performance into an even grander night at the theatre.  As is, it's an interesting character study and acting challenge with a few spooky and shocking moments and not much more.

Official Site

No comments:

Post a Comment