Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

STNJ Macbeth
Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins
Perfectly Matched in Murder

Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins
William Shakespeare's Macbeth is a semi-historic, highly fictionalized, mystical tragedy based on the several month reign of a ninth century king. It is chockablock with beautiful language, heated drama and outsized emotions. It is also exceptionally bloody, psychologically muddled, and its central characters are unsympathetic and without redeeming social qualities.

Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins are an exceedingly well matched pair of murderers. In other productions, Lady Macbeth has often been the malevolent plotter, leading a weak husband down the garden path. Here, with emendations in the text, Bonnie J. Monte's direction and the lead performances make the murderous Macbeths equals in evil.

Cuccioli proves a world class Shakespearean actor. His reading of the text is wonderfully clear and natural, and he has been gifted with clean and powerful vocal chords. At first, he presents himself as a jovial in victory, good fellow to King Duncan, Banquo and others. However, when Duncan designates his son Malcolm as his successor, Cuccioli's Macbeth conveys the evil depth of his ambition in one line by his intonation, expression and physical movement.

Laila Robins does not feel the need to top other Lady Macbeths in evil. Even as she disdains her biological make-up, Robins does not resort to caricature. She is not the most chilling of Lady Macbeths, but she is one of the most human.

A major payoff is the equal strength of the two mad scenes. In the first, Macbeth breaks down as he repeatedly "sees" the murdered Banquo at a party. Of course, the second is Lady Macbeth's famed "out, out, damned spot" monologue.

There is reasonable depth through the 23 member cast. Gregory Derelian as Macduff nicely conveys a combination of suspicion and level-headed caution. Melissa T. Miller's Lady Macduff is very human and makes us care about her fate. Eric Hoffmann as a porter at the Macbeth's castle expertly supplies comic relief.

Certainly, one can cavil at some of the cuts. One prime example is the truncation of the role of Duncan's son Malcolm.

Director Bonnie J. Monte has staged a sleek, clear and compact Macbeth. Sharply staged on a mostly black and handsome, cleanly modern-feeling thrust set designed by Michael Schweikardt, there is a welcome air of immediacy and clarity. Central to the look of the show is the evocative, stark lighting of Brenda Gray who provides brilliant, visually stunning purple hues.

The excellent design team is completed by costume designer Frank Champa. The costumes, mostly in black, dark grey, and purplish hues (I did not notice any browns until after intermission), are visually well-mated with the scenery and lighting. Champa's gowns for Lady Macbeth are stunning and seem to encompass classic simplicity and sleek modernity.

The highlight of the production is director Monte's depiction of the witches and apparitions. It is made clear that it cannot be fully known to what extent they are symbolic of predetermination and to what extent they rise from the nature and actions of fallible humans. This is the most involving issue raised in this production. Monte's staging of the scene in which witches and apparitions confront Macbeth as forces begin to gather against him is scary, visually beautiful and dramatically valid. Witch Caralyn Kozlowski is exceptional here.

(Director Bonnie J. Monte, in her "Director's Notes" in the program, makes an extremely clever but inherently fallacious attempt to link the Bush administration to the horrific conduct of the Macbeths. I presume that an equally partisan minion of the right could make as not good a case for Macbeth representing a Kerry-like figure who would do anything to attain power for its own sake. However, Monte's "notes" make for interesting reading.)

Macbeth continues performances through November 19, 2004 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, N.J. 07940; Box Office: 973-408-5600; online

Macbeth by William Shakespeare; directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast (in order of appearance):
Macbeth .......... Robert Cuccioli
Macduff/Macdonwald .......... Gregory Derelian
Lady Macduff/Witch .......... Melissa T. Miller
Lady Macbeth's Gentlewoman/Witch .......... Corey Tazmania
Witch .......... Caralyn Kozlowski
Duncan .......... Raphael Nash Thompson
Malcolm .......... Jimonn Cole
Captain Seyton .......... Michael Rossmy
Lennox .......... Doug West
Rosse .......... Brian Schilb
Angus/Murderer 2 .......... Seth B. Rabinowitz
Donalbain/Young Siward .......... Roderick Lapid
Menteith/Groom .......... Dennis Ferenchick
Groom/Servant/Soldier .......... Steven Jayson
Macbeth's Servant/Soldier .......... Alexander Haynes
Banquo .......... Michael Stewart Allen
Lady Macbeth .......... Laila Robins
Murderer 1/Soldier/Caithness .......... Aaron Shipp
A Porter .......... Eric Hoffmann
Fleance/Macduff's Son .......... Austin Colaluca
An Old Man/Old Siward .......... Leon Addison Brown
Lord/Doctor .......... Duncan Hazard
Macduff's Daughter .......... Chloe Colcluca

Photo: Gerry Goodstein.

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