Theater review by David Cote. Ethel Barrymore Theatre (see Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Dir. John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg. With Alan Cumming. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.
The scariest and one of the goriest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth naturally lends itself to horror-movie tropes. I’ve seen a multimedia Polish version with an eerie, Donnie Darko–style rabbit. The previous Broadway mounting, with Patrick Stewart, had witches out of The Ring and a sink that spouted blood. Now comes John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg’s high-concept reduction, in which a man admitted to a mental ward recites an abridgement of the classic, playing nearly all the characters while abreacting to an unspecified trauma. Slasher-flick and ghost-story buffs, take note: There are grainy surveillance-camera images; creepy antique dolls; red gimp masks; unnerving, industrial noise; and a hysterical, blood-streaked Alan Cumming freaking out for more than 100 minutes.
There’s also a play—remember? Macbeth?—that newcomers to the work might find hard to follow. Still, you can savor Cumming’s bravura physical and vocal performance, the way his burr strokes the language to release its incantatory power. And the visuals are positively avant-garde by Broadway standards. The piece’s ideal venue is St. Ann’s Warehouse, though it’s served infinitely better here than it was at the cavernous Rose Theater during last summer’s Lincoln Center Festival. While this Macbeth has spooky atmosphere and the verse raises gooseflesh, it falls between camps. Veterans of recontextualized Bard may yawn; people who don’t know the text may be frightened, but more likely confused.—David Cote
RECOMMENDED: Why Alan Cumming was born to play Macbeth
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote