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That Play

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

If you think there's nothing left to be said about Macbeth, think again; Tom Gualtieri is ready to prove you wrong.

In That Play, now appearing at the Abingdon Theatre Complex as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, Gualtieri not only dissects and discusses Shakespeare's tragic, bloody masterpiece for the audience's benefit, but gives sterling portrayals in most of the play's roles.

With the help of co-adapter and director Heather Hill, Gualtieri succeeds not just at making what many might consider a difficult play understandable, but making one of Shakespeare's darkest plays a great deal of fun. Neither is a small achievement, and that he does it while giving a number of performances which wouldn't be out of place in a full production of the show is merely another feather in his cap.

Take, for example, the agile way he defines each of the three weird sisters, whose prophecies about the title character prove both accurate and disastrous - each has a clearly defined voice, and is always seen relative to one position around the giant cauldron they're tending. Or how, by grabbing the material from the leg of his mock-Elizabethan garb (which has been cagily designed to look as though the lapels and sleeve are covered in blood) he is able to suggest the regal attire of the power-hungry Lady Macbeth and then round it out with a vocal performance that is both understated and sexual, suggesting one of the ways she may exert her will on her husband. That Play is full of these sorts of touches.

But Gualtieri also finds a great deal of comedy to add to the presentation. Whether explaining Lady Macbeth's decorating philosophy or her gardening habits, or wryly commenting that, in Scotland, being dead is no excuse for missing a dinner invitation, his humor is lighthearted and irreverent, but always derived from the play itself. He doesn't need to rely on tricks or obfuscation - it's right there on the page, if only you know how to find it.

Gualtieri and Hill do a very good job of locating both that humor and the drama and presenting them in simple ways that put the communication of the play's story first. Gualtieri's frantically defining the stage area into "Macbeth" and "Macduff" sections is funny and first, but pays off dramatically during the story's climactic battle, and his performance of Lady Macbeth's famous mad scene near play's end is openly touching and even human.

Of course, the most interesting question raised by the play is what should Gualtieri do next? Macbeth, as one of Shakespeare's shorter tragedies, lends itself more naturally to this type of performance than might others (though his take on Hamlet is interesting to contemplate). One thing, however, remains clear: That Play's title derives from the long-standing theatrical superstition that uttering the word "Macbeth" in a theater is bad luck. Rest assured, though, there's nothing to fear as long as Gualtieri is around.

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Fourth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
That Play
Through August 2
Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Abingdon Theater Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.279.4200