Monday, May 20, 2013


The National Theater of Scotland's production of "Macbeth" at Ethel Barrymore Theatre, May 20, 2013

Alan Cumming returns to the Great White Way, reprising his one-man production of the Scottish Play following last summer's visit during the Lincoln Center Festival.

Under the direction of Once director John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg, it's another riff on Marat/Sade with inmates putting on the play.  Mr. Cumming appears to have arrived after an undisclosed traumatic event, bloodied and confused.  His caretakers (Jenny Sterlin and Brendan Titley) tend his wounds, collect his clothes and tissue from a cheek swab and under his fingernails.  It's something of a next step compared to the 2008 Broadway revival with Patrick Stewart perhaps, but I'm equally unconvinced of this concept as well.

For a festival production, it makes a certain amount of sense, a bravura performance carried by a solo actor for a specific occasion.  It's a bit of a stretch to liken that to a limited run on Broadway, in my humble opinion.  Had this been a smash with audiences and critics, one could count on seeing it extend.  It is selling relatively well, but at a strong discount.

Nonetheless, the upside is that the tale is told in an intermissionless hour and 45 minutes.  Once the audience attunes to Mr. Cumming's variations in accent and transitions, the salient elements of the plot come through.  He bounds about the asylum basement ward, collecting conveniently placed flotsam and jetsam to assist: an upholstered wheelchair for the king's throne, a filthy and tattered baby doll as Malcolm, a ragged blanket for a uniform.  The caretakers fill in for minor characters on occasion. His multiple characterizations do find separation, but most merely float on the surface.  The end result is a shout of "watch me ACT!" Fans of Mr. Cumming will be enthralled.

Messrs Tiffany and Goldberg have employed some clever use of surveillance cameras and video screens, particularly to convey Macbeth's visions of Banquo's ghost. Fans of Mr. Cumming will be enthralled.

Macbeth runs through July 14.  Tickets available here.

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