This post has been days in the making. On a whim, I stopped into the Barrymore after lunch on Monday to ask the dumb question of if they still had Youth tickets for that night’s performance of The Scottish Play (Macbeth) … and as luck would have it, they did.
My eyebrows shot up in shock and I quickly yanked out my wallet and slid $30 and my ID under the window in the lobby to pay for my ticket and prove that I was, in fact, under the age of 30. (All Broadway shows have different rush policies, and Macbeth’s is that they have a limited amount of $30 tickets for patrons under the age of 30… I don’t turn 30 until November, so I’m trying to take full advantage of these “Under Age 30” deals while I can.)
That night, I sat down in my 11th row aisle seat (partial view seat, but that was expected) and waited anxiously for the play to begin. Instead of reading the synopsis of the play and character breakdown provided in the Playbill, I filled out a survey from the Broadway League and then looked about the theater, hoping to see a familiar face or two.
A couple minutes before the play was to start, I did see a familiar face. Jane Lynch (dear Lord she is tall) walked down the aisle to my left and was shown her aisle seat a few rows up from mine. Just as the lights were turned off, I slid over a few seats (as my row literally had me and a pair of older gentleman several seats down from me) so I could have a better view of the stage. I also ended up having a better view of Jane Lynch. It was odd watching her watch the play, but my attention stayed mainly on the stage because Alan Cumming was completely mesmerizing.
For those of you who are not aware, this version of Macbeth is a one-man show starring Alan Cumming as all the characters. Set in a hospital of sorts, Cumming is left on his own accord (but then watched and tended to from time to time by two doctors) and proceeds to act out the entire Scottish Play.
I was remiss that I didn’t read the synopsis and character breakdown because it took me awhile to figure out some of the relationships between the various characters and keep them all in check. Cumming did a miraculous job at giving each character a distinctive voice or movement (sometimes both). There were also a few key props (an apple, a creepy doll, a wheelchair and a sweater) that were important throughout the play.
If you’re like me, you probably read Macbeth once or twice in high school and haven’t paid much thought to it over the past decade or so. You remember the story and a couple key lines of dialogue, but you probably don’t remember how everyone is related or why this person wants to kill that person. However, even though I forgot a majority of the plot from when I last read Macbeth (which was fall of 1998 or spring of 1999…), that didn’t mean I appreciated the play any less.
Alan Cumming is a force to be reckoned with. I now fully understand why he doesn’t do matinees during his run because if watching him was emotionally taxing (which it very much was), I cannot imagine the stress doing this show puts on his body and soul. He literally flings himself around on stage for an hour and a half, baring every aspect of himself – inside and out.
Yes, there is nudity. From the start, Cumming’s character is stripped from his everyday clothes and changed into hospital garb with the help of the two doctors. During the play he takes a bath in a tub onstage and is in varying stages of dress throughout. Despite seeing every inch of Alan Cumming (which I think was accidental… but from where I was sitting, his towel didn’t quite cover him post-bath), this was the least distracting/unnecessary stage nudity that I’ve ever seen in a show. It wasn’t that I didn’t notice – it’s that it was very much a believable and necessary part of the story that it never took you out of the moment.
Plays like this make me glad the theater was mostly dark throughout the entire time. My facial expressions ran the complete gamut of emotions. I laughed. I gasped. I winced. I shuddered. I was startled. I was stunned. I was horrified. I was charmed. I was scared.
I was moved.
My eyes were glued to the stage and I couldn’t peel them away. I had to keep following Cumming as he purposefully positioned himself around various parts of the stage, using three surveillance cameras and a bathroom mirror as both allies and foes. These were means where he could play several characters at once, or highlight the epic loneliness that was really being shown on stage.
One of the biggest thrills for me was getting to hear Cumming speak in a Scottish accent/dialect throughout the entire play. Most of the time when we see him on film or on television, he’s got an American accent or something that is not entirely his own brogue. Though he used many different voices throughout the show, I got a kick out of hearing the Scottish Play being performed by a Scot with a proper accent.
Macbeth is at the Barrymore through July 14th. If you want to see the Bard’s words being masterfully spoken by one of the greatest stage performers of his generation, get yourself a ticket and settle into your seat. Don’t say the play’s name while in the theater, but this intermission-free performance of Macbeth is worth a see if you are in the city before the middle of July.