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A CurtainUp Review
That Play: A Solo Macbeth
Comparisons are odious. But if pressed, one could easily sum up the difference between Cumming and Gualtieri’s performances as being like wine and beer. Cumming invited you to sip slowly at Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, allowing it to swirl across your soul. Gualtieri invites you to gulp the tale down with earthy gusto, trusting it to work its magic without any fancy pretensions.
Part of of Gualtieri’s magic is that he dons a comic mask to tell a tragic tale. In a rambling yarn, he becomes alternately Narrator and over a dozen characters from the Scottish play. He cordially guides us through the hurly burly, first introducing us to the Weird Sisters on the heath, then to Macbeth and Banquo, to Lady Macbeth, and a posse of other daring Scotts who inhabit their world. Gualtieri speaks his Shakespeare with an American accent throughout, and only once during the evening does he assume a Scottish brogue. In short, he never plays the superiority card. He hails as an American here, and performs the entire piece with exhilarating American flavor .
Gualtieri, as Narrator, keeps a tight rein on the play. He faithfully follows the arc of Shakespeare’s narrative, but often interrupts the story to add snippets of Scottish history, provide insights on the wild idiosyncrasies of the three witches, and trace the intricate relationships of the diverse, and often doomed, characters. Indeed he takes the hot potato business of the play, and handles it with delicious humor and surprising wit. He parses Shakespeare’s language, time and again, and shows us how it can incredibly reveal a character’s heart and mind.
Riffing on Lady Macbeth early on, he points out that her words are a “little over-the-top” when she is playing hostess to King Duncan at Dunsinane Palace. But instead of just quoting her verbatim, he paints a picture of her turning down the bedding for the travel-weary Duncan, and then placing a scone on his pillow. In short, he reveals the killer within the woman and illuminates how her kindness was only a posture, a mere façade for her deceitful intentions.
The evening is never boring! Gualtieri is a top-notch raconteur, and knows how to balance the text with perceptive commentary. He is at his best when he pinpoints the moments when Macbeth takes a serious wrong turn, or has lost his moral compass, and is heading into his final downward spiral. Gualtieri posits that this “tipping point” is when the Thane hallucinates that he sees Banquo’s ghost seated at his banquet table, shaking his “gory locks” at him. Or as our Narrator tells us: “Now Macbeth is in trouble. His back is against the wall. And he is in need of some really good, sound advice. So where does he go? Back to the witches.” No happily-ever-after in this tale.
Looking back over the many Macbeths I have seen over the years, this solo take is hardly the most profound or comprehensive. But it's devilishly fun, refreshing, and brimming with zest.
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