The Review: Classic Stage Company’s Macbeth
It has always been one of my favorites, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, since the day I really sat down and studied the text as a college student about to do a set design project for a final term fantasy production. It was a big colossal rotating mountain forest mess, even though it was well received, but since that day, I have always been drawn to the mysterious masterpiece. I couldn’t help but be captivated by the three witches, and the prophesies that ultimately undo the man who listens. It’s murder, madness, and blind ambition, played out on the dark sided edge of power and fear. No wonder it still captivates and teases with possibilities. There have been, lately, so many retelling of this greedy tale; the violently magnificent schoolgirl creation by Red Bull Theater, Alan Cummings’ dramatic one man rendition on Broadway, the star-powered 2006 Shakespeare in the Park production starring Liev Schreiber, Kenneth Branagh in the 2014 groundbreaking production at Park Avenue Armory, and just weeks ago, the sad stoner comic tragedy musical, Scotland, PA that tried to serve up its happiest meal of re-creation only to fall head first into the deep fryer of invention. All seem to be drawn to The Scottish Play’s mystical forest and dense entangled mythology, with some finding their way through the bristles, and others tripping on the roots and falling into the dirty muddy heath.
With a ferocious flurry of grey, the thoughtful and frenzied Classic Stage Company runs in to war, finding their own sparse and driven focus inside a one act Macbeth that plants the legendary warrior teetering on the edge (literally in that first scene), daring us to watch him fall. “If we fail.” “We fail.” This is the rapturous CSC rendition’s motto, and as directed and designed with a sparsity that would have made my college project a breeze, John Doyle (CSC’s Pacific Overtures, As You Like It) mostly doesn’t, plowing this tyrannic beast forward at a clip worthy of a war-time charge, although struggling to hold onto the details of its encryption. It wins us with its unique trifles, such as having Duncan most beautifully portrayed by the well versed and proud Mary Beth Peil (Broadway’s Anastasia), and by the richly delivered Malcolm embodied by the handsome and steadfast Raffi Barsoumian (Broadway’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses) whose strong voice and solid stature makes me wonder what his future Macbeth will look and sound like.
Corey Stoll (“House of Cards“, Public’s Plenty) though is the Macbeth of this dramatic feast, diving in to the text with wise engagement and dynamic delivery. His charm grows as the piece gallops forward, showcasing a deep attachment to others, like Erik Lochtefeld’s (Broadway’s King Kong) Banquo, who initially feels like loyal camaraderie until his insecure need for legacy devour his affection for his friend. His quiet swings and play draw us in, not whole-heartedly but sporadically, especially with his on and off again chemistry with his Lady Macbeth, delivered by the determined Nadia Bowers (Wheelhouse’s Life Sucks). She dons the reverse mask of engagement, shining at first, although having trouble sparking the heat between the two fully. Why the note she reads in the first scene is written on a cotton handkerchief? I’m not quite sure, but the limpness of the communication is maybe prophetic to the reunion of a warrior returning home to his loving wife. Her Lady is of the traditional reading, rising to the occasion as she attempts to mask the madness at the meal, but never fully finding the right power in her own dream induced madness. She washes her hand as if sleepwalking, not falling headfirst into a nightmare from which she won’t or can’t return.
Macduff, well played by Barzin Akhavan (Broadway’s Network) and his wife, Lady Macduff, beautifully embodied by N’Jameh Camara (PMP’s The Color Purple) find the earth-borne authenticity within the fabric. Her multi-layered painful realization alongside Barbara Walsh (Transport Group/CSC’s Summer and Smoke) and the young Antonio Michael Woodard (Trinity Rep’s Ragtime) wraps just the right qualities of pain, anguish, and anger into a white cotton bundle held tightly to her breast. The actors fly in and around the stage, beautifully humming the march of the dead, while standing steadfast in their righteousness, or holding court on the four corners of the battlefield with regale energy. The ragged blankets become a distraction as they swirl about, being twisted and refolded to render reconfigured uniqueness of character and symbolize advancements in theme, all courtesy of the simple costuming by Ann Hould-Ward (CSC’s The Cradle Will Rock). Against the backdrop of intense and direct lighting by Solomon Weisbard (Soho Rep’s Duat), and solid sound by Matt Stine (CSC’s ..Arturo Ui) the stance is firm enough, and the wraps thankfully get folded away.
The rebellious battle does come, almost too quickly to the wired up Macbeth, beautifully formatted through the expertise of fight director Thomas Schall (Broadway’s The Ferryman). Stoll has risen up to the part as the warriors attack, and his ultimate betrayal registers strongly through his whole form and function. The quick succession brings this Macbeth to a quick and bitter end. I’m not sure I’m completely behind the speeded up rendition, nor the chorus of witches rather than the trio of lore. Those three beguiling conjurers are almost my preferred hosts to this event, but this King hums with power on the edges of tragedy, driving his horse into battle with speed and purpose. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for all those future Macbeths. You hear me, Barsoumian? The space is wide open for interpretation. And I’m looking forward to the day when Raffi, and all those others, done that temporary crown. Now I’m off to rewatch “Slings and Arrows” Season 2, when Macbeth makes its revengeful way to their main stage.