By: Bernard Carragher
November 1, 2019: The Classic Stage Company’s Artistic Director, John Doyle, is taking a different look at Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Using a minimal ensemble of actors, most of whom play multiple roles, with the two leads Corey Stoll as Macbeth, and his wife Nadia Bowers as Lady Macbeth, providing the main emotional force of the play. The cast often speaks in unison and projects an aura of the supernatural, and creates the proper illusion with their incantations and their predictions of the play’s tenor of “fair is foul, and foul is fair,” sinister tone.
As Macbeth, Mr. Stoll’s manner is assured, his bearing is that of a commander or a king. There are echos of his dazzling performance as Marcus Brutus in a Trump-era Julius Caesar a couple of years ago in Shakespeare in the Park. He is mature in appearance, like the rest of the cast, he and Lady Macbeth are dressed simply in somber dark clothes though they sport royal grey Scottish tartan tunics. The costumes are by Ann Hould-Ward. Mr. Doyle not only staged the production, but also designed the simple, kingly settings, dramatically lit by Solomon Weisbard.
Mr. Stoll has a powerful physical presence of a soldier who once cut a man in two with his sword. He is gracious with King Duncan (played by the actress Mary Beth Peil) and ardent with Lady Macbeth. He is stirring when he wrestles with his conscience about killing Duncan – though the idea was first aluded to him by Lady Macbeth. After Duncan’s murder is completed, he seems terrified walking across the stage, staring in horror at his bloody hands. It takes him a while to remove these bloody stains. The haunting horror of his and his lady’s life has just begun.
Mr. Stoll’s poetic language is strong and melodious. He speaks most of the play’s soliloquies well, such as the great one which begins “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” Mr. Doyle has staged the play to make a whole and complete man of Macbeth. Stoll’s performance ranges from a whisper with the paid assassin of Banquo to a howl of utter terror at the sight of Banqo’s ghost.
Towards the end of the play, in the great speech that follows the news of Lady Macbeth’s death, you feel the wariness, the emptiness of a man as he speaks the magnificent “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” lines. He makes the transition from Macbeth’s Act I raging wildness to his penultimate apathy. Most of Macbeth’s mind and his heart and soul are in Stoll’s performance.
Ms. Bower, in her chilly, elegantly forceful manner, gives us an honest sense of Lady Macbeth’s guilt and colossal growing inner turmoil. As MacDuff, Barzin Akhavan is moving in the horrifying scene when he learns of the appalling slaughter of his wife and child – brutally staged by Mr. Doyle.
The only flaw in the production is the lack of a program. I did happen upon a printed cast sheet at the box office, which I found invaluable in identifying the seven actors playing such a variety of supporting roles.
As the play hits its stride – there is no intermission–, Mr. Doyle’s compact “Macbeth” becomes a unique and strong mini-look at Shakespeare’s tragic Scotish tale.
Lynn F. Angelson Theater at Classic Stage Company
October 10 – December 15, 2019
136 E. 13th Street in New York City
Tickets and membership packages can be purchased at classicstage.org or 212.352.3101 (or toll free 866.811.4111).
Photography: Joan Marcus