i have grown weary of the discounts and local happenings which parade through my inbox each morning - the sample sales and i should spend some time apart, i think, and by and large i'm happiest when i'm loafing - but daily candy's weekend-preview email did me a solid last week:
SEEi did work up a sweat chasing lady macbeth in sleep no more (an immersive, interactive, macbeth-adjacent hipster theatre experience) back in december, and i wondered, therefore, if i could still count macbeth as shakespeare i had yet to see. i've developed a fondness for alan cumming's saucy introductions to masterpiece mystery! programs, and i found an empty seat in the center of the front row for fifty bucks, so i went for it.
Alan Cumming’s One-Man Macbeth
What: The quirky Scottish actor takes to the stage for a solo rendition of the Shakespeare classic set in a psychiatric ward.
Why: You worked up a sweat chasing Lady Macbeth in Sleep No More. Chill out for this one.
When: Today-July 14.
Where: Rose Theater, Broadway, at 60th St. (212-875-5766). Tickets ($50-$100) at lincolncenterfestival.org.
bearing in mind that it's nearly impossible to stage shakespeare i can't enjoy in some way (congratulations again, perpetrators of a midsummer night's dream on the north shore of lake tahoe in the summer of 1999), this was some shakespeare, team. i know macbeth nearly as well as i know hamlet, so the fact that the play had been trimmed down to an hour and forty five minutes and nearly all surviving characters and lines fell to one underclothed, androgynous scotsman wasn't problematic for me. in fact, the very element that seemed to bother reviewers - that is, that cumming never develops the momentum of macbeth's traditionally terrible, carnivorous majesty at the end of the play - pleased me. i need king lear to be full-throated and tragic, which is why derek jacobi's infantilized version so disappointed me last year; he can't squeal and coo! macbeth, on the other hand, is a piñata just waiting to be smacked. as staged by the national theatre of scotland, he's one of a dozen characters to erupt from AC, who is escorted to the stage (a cavernous, filthy-tiled psychiatric ward with a few rickety beds at one end, an iron staircase at the other, and a large, clinical viewing window high on the rear wall) by a silent man and woman in hospital uniforms. he's gently stripped of his suit, swabbed for evidence (there are three deep scratches on his chest, and there's something beneath his fingernails), given a white tee and trousers, and abandoned as he pronounces the first line of the play, a witch's line - "when shall we three meet again?" it segues beautifully to his first scene as the witches; his face is tripled in screens at the top of the stage, and his body contorts bestially (a la his x-men 2 character, nightcrawler). otherness suits him, and his scenes as the witches and as lady macbeth were some of my favorites. his turn as both macbeths in act I, scene V (lady m's "cowboy up" speech) should be ridiculous - who can plausibly seduce himself? - but the flipflop physicality totally works, and the scene is impressive rather than gimmicky. when cumming does settle in as macbeth, particularly in several long, wordless scenes in which he's both failing to turn into the thundering thane his wife urged him to be and going to pieces as a psychiatric patient (there's a particularly chilling sequence in which the same screens that showed cumming as the three witches appear to be showing a live feed of him alone and asleep on one of the hospital beds - until a dark, furtive figure materializes at his shoulder, visible on the monitors and nowhere on the stage) - he's riveting, whoever he is. contemporary staging and phrasing aren't usually my thing, but when they work, they work.
yeah, yeah, but who is he? "[this staging] might be some people's first time ever seeing shakespeare and this play, so we don't want to mess around," said co-director john tiffany (whose broadway version of once just picked up eight tonys, if you're into that sort of thing). "what we've done is try to honor the story by setting it in a context that an audience has a different way in." like a first-time sleep no more participant, a neophyte here would wander and even stumble a bit - but here, he or she would be sure to meet macbeth.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 if you've seen sleep no more, do you consider it a staging of macbeth?
02 if you've seen cory arcangel's clouds, have you seen super mario brothers?
03 you've been asked to introduce a masterpiece mystery! show. what shall you wear? shall you affect an accent?
04 i bought a nonrefundable ticket for last sunday's show before realizing sunday was joe's birthday. am i the worst wife ever?
05 i need you to stage some one-man shakespeare. which play do you choose? why?