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Macbeth

Theatre Review by David Hurst - October 28, 2019


Nadia Bowers and Corey Stoll
Photo by Joan Marcus
After playing Brutus in Julius Caesar and Iago in Othello in 2017 and 2018 at The Public's Delacorte Theater, it was understandable that actor Corey Stoll ("House of Cards") would want to essay the title character in one of Shakespeare's classic tragedies like Macbeth. After all, why wouldn't he? Everyone else does. He found a taker for his desire in the minimalist director John Doyle at the Classic Stage Company, where Doyle is the resident artistic director. Unfortunately, the collaboration between Stoll and Doyle is a drastically cut Macbeth with a cast of nine actors that's a confusing and unnecessary mess. And you'll be forgiven for thinking you're watching the fall collection of Donna Karan's new line of pashminas in muted earth tones and tartan plaids, as the actors continually play with and adjust the pieces of fabric costume designer Ann Hould-Ward has outfitted them to wear as sashes, scarves and belts. They cannot stop fussing with them or readjusting them. The good news is the fashion show only lasts for 100 minutes.

In recent years, New York has been awash in a plethora of Macbeths, many of which merely reinforced the notion that the play is cursed and should only be referred to as "the Scottish play." From Christopher Plummer to Raul Julia to Alec Baldwin to Kelsey Grammer to Liev Schreiber to Patrick Stewart to Alan Cumming to Ethan Hawke to Kenneth Branagh, it seems every actor wants to throw his hat in the ring playing a man whose rapacious, political ambition wreaks psychological destruction on his world. The point being, if you're going to mount a new, minimalist, stripped-down production of a play as famous as Macbeth, you have to bring something new to bear on the story and the characters. The production needs to illuminate something new in the telling, otherwise what's the point? This is where Doyle's production for Stoll fails. Indeed, if you aren't well versed in the play already, you'll be forgiven for being utterly confused by Doyle's ruthless edits and bland staging.

More aptly called Macbeth Lite, Doyle has slashed the play into a greatest hits "highlights," with the nine actors doubling and tripling in multiple roles, including everyone playing the famous witches, which dilutes the impact of those wacky sisters' prophecies. Things move at a breakneck pace with scenes playing into one another without pauses or a change of lighting to indicate what's going on. The actors give their all and each has a lovely moment or two, despite Doyle's inability to direct them into cogent performances. As Banquo and Malcolm, Erik Lochtefeld and Raffi Barsoumian acquit themselves admirably amidst all the "sash adjusting." And as Lady Macbeth, Nadia Bowers, who is Stoll's wife in real-life, too, frequently shows the fire and malice one expects from a woman who tells her husband to screw his courage to the sticking place for the onslaught of carnage yet to come. For his part, Corey Stoll begins well but, approximately 30-40 minutes into the piece, he lapses into a contemporary delivery of his lines that's soon followed by anachronistic gestures and body language. One suspects Stoll, who's a talented actor, has a Macbeth within him, but it's not this misguided production.


Macbeth
Through December 15
Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St, New York
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule at www.classicstage.org


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