Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
By Simon Saltzman
The dense fog that first reveals the "the weird sisters," the backdrop of black shadow-revealing curtains that dominate designer Michael Schweikardts stark no frills setting and Brenda Grays ominously dark lighting all appear to be in keeping with the prevailing mood of imminent treachery and subterfuge that is as dominant as Montes precisely executed staging. But there is nothing in the haunting atmospherics that prepare us for the dazzling electrical fireworks that light up the stage when Macbeth and his Lady are upon it.
There is little doubt that Robert Cuccioli (Macbeth) and Laila Robins (Lady Macbeth) are a couple in real life and it gives their intimacies a decided boost. Consider the moments, as when Lady Macbeth leaps into Macbeths open arms, her legs straddling his waist as he gives her an affectionate slap on the derriere, or when he returns in kind a passionately offered mouth. These are clearly characters marked by their consuming need and dependence for each other, at least, while things are going their way.
But even as their best if ill-laid plans begin to go awry in long ago Scotland, there remain for us to relish the psychologically entwined aspects of their disintegrating relationship. Considering all the formidable actors who have tackled these complex and indeed, very popular roles, including (in recent times) Christopher Plummer with Kate Reid and also Glenda Jackson, Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and Diana Rigg (oh, the list goes on and on), I am eager to nominate Cuccioli and Robins to the list of the distinguished.
The Tragedy of Macbeth has perplexed innumerable directors and actors for over 375 years. To put it concisely, it is not an easy play to perform. Scholars have acknowledge that the numerous additions and deletions by other hands have resulted in some awkward transitions in both character and scene development. Many of the worlds finest actors have been unable to co-exist on stage with the dual responsibility of projecting a character who is noble, kind and sensitive and yet ambitious to a fault He succumbs not only to his wifes all-consuming desire for power but also to the mistress of the witches' prognostications, who (in this instance) bears a remarkable likeness to Lady M. Murder after murder is justified superficially, but Macbeths methodic deterioration of his mind and spirit must be the foremost goal of the actor or we lose all compassion for this pitiable but heroic figure.
Cuccioli, who is probably best known for his Jekyll and Hyde portrayal on Broadway and is celebrating his fifth season with the NJ Shakespeare Theater, is considerably more inspired by his Lady M. than he was by Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra a few seasons ago. He reveals Macbeths steady mental deterioration as a man unwittingly corrupted by the woman he loves and trusts. I wouldnt call his Macbeth the last word on Macbeth, but his performance reaches well into a vivid if still essentially decomposing Macbeth. Except for the night porters (amusingly played by Eric Hoffman) "knock, knock" scene, Cuccioli gets the play's sole laugh uttering, "Twas a rough night." Twas indeed. Because all hinges on one actors ability to bring dimension to so many qualities both noble and ignoble, I can see the almost tortuous demands that are made upon the actor who tackles it. Hamlet must seem like a breeze in comparison.
Lady Macbeth is the plays real motivating force and the one who triggers Macbeths crimes by manipulating his subconscious desire for the throne. In this instance, we also have the luminous Robins as the dangerously ambitious woman whose conscience seems to war against her resolutions for a total of about 30 seconds. Robins, who has numerous Broadway credits including last seasons acclaimed Frozen, has been active on the NJ Shakespeare Theater stage for eight seasons. She is nothing less than a keg of unstable dynamite. It is thrilling to see how, dressed in costumer Frank Champas sensual and cleavage revealing gowns, with her long blonde hair at liberty, she uses her sex and Macbeths strength to fulfill her own ends. In the famed sleep-walking scene, Robins exposes Lady M.s guilty conscience with fiery resoluteness that is both chilling and heartbreaking.
Heavily metaphysical in nature, almost all the characters reflect aspects of Macbeths own persona. It is striking how Monte uses the witches. Cloaked in black hooded robes, they hover and spy on the action even as they invade Macbeths dreams. The famed "double toil and trouble" pot boiler speech is given added psychological power by having the witches give it while practicing their concerted witchery over Macbeths sleeping body. And equally provocative, the witches are all young and weird enough, far from being hags.
As much as Michael Stewart Allen captures Banquos high-mindedness whilst alive, he is even better when he returns as a bloody and vengeful ghost to scare the daylights out of Macbeth. Gregory Derelian, as that model of integrity McDuff and Raphael Nash Thompson, as the gracious Duncan, are part of an excellent ensemble within another powerful play from the Bard for our times.
As it is almost impossible not to interpret Shakespeare in the light of our current state of affairs, here are a few lines from director Montes program notes: "Macbeths journey begins with self-promotion, moves to self-defense and quickly spirals into addiction. He becomes addicted to violence as a solution, immune to fear, seduced by power, monstrous in his arrogance and an expert in twisting truth -- not only for others but for himself as well." Monte reminds us that the time is always right to say, and as Macbeth says in his final words in the play, "Hold, enough."
Editor's Note: Links to other Macbeth productions reviewed at CurtainUp, see our Shakespeare Page.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.