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A CurtainUp Review

It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood. .— Macbeth
Nadia Bowers and Corey Stoll Nadia Bowers (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Classic Stage Company's gripping new production of Macbeth takes a clear-eyed look at this great tragedy of ambition. Starring Corey Stoll and Nadia Bowers as the titular characters, and directed with eclat by John Doyle, the company's artistic director, this Macbeth is a no-frills rendering of the popular play and slam dunks Doyle's reputation as master of the minimalist aesthetic.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth circa 1605-06 when he was an actor-share-holder in the London acting company called the King's Men. It was his fourth Jacobean play and surely fascinated his royal patron King James I who believed in witchcraft and wrote a book on the subject entitled Daemonologie.

If this historical background helps to contextualize the play, let's complement it with Doyle's uncanny personal connection to the geographical setting of Macbeth.Since he was born in inverness, Scotland, it's fair to consider him especially equipped for directing The Scottish Play — especially since, ass a boy he attended school in the "shadow of Cawdor Castle" and regularly breathed in its fabled air.

Although I've been a fan of Doyle's past work I wondered if I could possibly see his Macbeth with fresh eyes. Having watched dozens of stage outings of this tragedy over the years and many screen adaptations (my favorite being the 1979 videotaped version of Trevor Nunn's Royal Shakespeare Company production), it felt like I had seen it all. What's more, I had just gone to the new stage musical Scotland, PA, based on a campc a movie , more interested in laughs than Shakespeare's words.

Fortunately, I gave into my unquenchable appetite for any new production. I wasn't disappointed. His Macbeth begins with his fluid interpretation of the weird sisters. True, you still can see the tableaux of the three witches meeting with Macbeth several times. But, in addition to this conventional staging of the three-some, you also get a group of witches chanting the familiar verses, intensifying the phantasmagoric effect of the play and physically reminding you that they are not merely within Macbeth's consciousness. ( Banquo saw and spoke with these midnight hags too in Act 1) They roam the world at large. Indeed, the group of witches here serve much like a Greek chorus and add a classical tinge to the tragedy.

Doyle also struck gold in casting Stoll and Bowers. They have excellent chemistry on stage (no doubt being married in real-life helps). Both look totally at ease in their individual parts.

The late critic Harold Bloom stressed the importance of not depicting the Macbeths as mere villains but as human beings who have a profound love for each other. In fact, he y commented on their conjugal relationship in his book, Invention of the Human with: "Indeed, with surpassing irony Shakespeare presents [the Macbeths] as the happiest married couple in all his work."

Although Shakespeare threw most of his weight into his two eponymous characters and failed to individualize the supporting ones, the ensemble in this Macbeth make the most of their sketchy parts. Kudos, in particular, go to Mary Beth Peil who performs the role of Duncan. Peil projects the sweet nature of the beloved royal and his touching naivite within the walls of the Macbeths' Inverness Palace.

Don't expect to see the Porter in this outing. He has been jettisoned from this Macbeth. Whether Doyle felt that the vivid character would act like a brake on his briskly paced production or simply felt that the comic scene in which he appears is unnecessary is unclear.

Doyle doubles as set designer, with his usual minimalist approach ; here conjuring up the eerie wilds of Scotland on a raised thrust stage with weathered-looking wooden boards, a rustic throne of the same material, and an overhead balcony. Props are sparse, with only the requisite daggers, a table, and a simple glass bowl filled with water that the Macbeths use to cleanse their bloody hands in after killing Duncan.

The rest of the creative team get the job done, with Soloman Weisbard's shadowy lighting looking properly lugubrious. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes are mostly made-up of long robes and tartan plaid capes that could be the past or present. Thomas Schall's lively fight direction keeps this tragedy of blood fittingly bloody.

Though John Doyle breaks the rules in all the right ways in his Macbeth, newbies to the play are likely to t become confused at times by its gender-blind casting and the nine cast members who play multiple roles. Even Stoll doubles as the hired murderer for Lady MacDuff and her children in this all-hands-on-deck production.

The online promotionals refer to this production as "a portrait of the psychology of tyranny" that has "found itself in unsettling dialogue with societies around the world time and again." What could be more true? For after 400 years Shakespeare's Scottish Plays holds such high validity that it speaks to the weighty global problems of today .

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Directed by John Doyle
Cast: Corey Stoll (Macbeth), Nadia Bowers (Lady Macbeth), Mary Beth Peil (Duncan), Raffi Barsoumian (Malcolm), Barbara Walsh (Ross), Antonio Michael Woodard (Fleance, Young Macduff), Erik Lochtefeld (Banquo), Barzin Akhavan (Macduff), N'Jameh Camara (Lady Macduff)
Sets: John Doyle
Costumes: Ann Hould-Ward
Sound: Matt Stine
Lighting: Solomon Weisbard
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager: Bernita Robinson
Classic Stage Company at 136 East 13th Street. Tickets are $80. Visit or phone 212.352.3101 (or toll free 866.811.4111).
From 10/10/19; opening 10/27/19; closing 12/15/19.
Running time: 1 hour; 40 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 10/24/19

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