When I went to see Macbeth on Broadway, I knew I was going to see an unconventional interpretation, but by no means did I expect it to be as out of the box as it was.
I had read Macbeth in my AP Composition class Junior year, and like most people who read Shakespeare in their English class, we analyzed ALL the themes and motifs. So, I went into this production with my pen and notebook in hand, ready to pluck out those themes and motifs from the performance. Instead, I found it difficult to write notes because my eyes were glued to stage.
The original Macbeth chronicles the tale of a Scottish general, who through the prophecy of three witches, and the urging of his manipulative wife, falls prey to the temptations of ambition and leaves a blazing trail of blood behind him.
This unconventional production is set in a hospital room, where Alan Cumming is a disturbed mental patient. The story of Macbeth is acted out through the emergence of his multiple personalities and illusions. Through the buzz of eerie melodies and abrupt blasts of light, I felt an aura of suspense and emotional turmoil lit within me. Cumming’s ability to transform from moment to moment with commitment, to deliver such a vast array of accents, and to portray such contrasting demeanors, almost instantly, was bewildering.
I found myself completely convinced
by him: his vulnerability as Macbeth and his fury as Lady Macbeth, even when he was frantically switching between the two having a conversation, and even making love [to himself!]. At times, it was difficult for me to keep up with the chameleon Cumming. But I understood which character was speaking each time and that made it easier to follow along with the chaotic storyline.
I found the use of three flat screen televisions suspended above the stage to be inventive. With cameras pointed at Cumming from various angles, the images on these screens allowed him to play the three “Weird Sisters “ and added a level of supernatural. Such simple use of technology was so stimulating and it was able to make Macbeth’s insanity more believable.
Let’s revert back to my English student mentality: I found that the production’s obscure and unconventional approach actually enhanced some of Macbeth’s themes for me, particularly the twisted gender-role complex. As Shakespeare’s play unfolds, one aspect in the text I like is Lady Macbeth’s masculinity in her marriage found in her hunger for power, her ruthlessness, and her successful manipulation of Macbeth to carry out these gruesome deeds. Because Alan Cumming, a man, was playing Lady Macbeth, the character not only possessed the drive and ambition of a man, but
…she truly was a man.
Similarly, because he was a mental patient, the frenzy with which the roles were played paralleled the deteriorating mental state of Macbeth as he sinks deeper into his doom. This unique premise, a man who was literally mad really made me believe that the character of Macbeth was going mad.
The scene that struck me with an intensity unmatched by anything else in the show was Lady Macbeth’s renowned “Unsex Me” monologue. This monologue epitomizes Lady Macbeth’s gender complex as she resolves to be stripped of all her “feminine weakness” and instilled with the masculine ambition she believes her husband does not have.
In this production, Cumming performed the monologue naked, in a bathtub. At first, I was shocked by the very literal approach but quickly I realized how valuable and compelling the choice was. By stripping naked, Cumming was completely exposed, revealing all his “manhood” to the audience, just as Lady Macbeth’s words expressed she intended to do. I was fiercely struck by Lady Macbeth’s overwhelming sexual and mental presence, which seemed intentionally more ferocious than ever when she was in the raw. I could feel her liberation and understand the true power of her character as she recited this monologue in such a state.
- Danielle B.
Ethyl Barrymore Theatre
243 W. 47th St. (btwn 7th and 8th Avenues)