Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 3,

2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: ‘Macbeth’

In William Shakespeare’s "Macbeth," a high-mind sensitive and noble

man is seduced by his unscrupulously ambitious wife into committing,

for the sake of his career, some rather heinous acts. In the spare but

stunning production, directed by Bonnie J. Monte, at the Shakespeare

Theater of New Jersey, there is ample evidence that the triple crone

curse has been averted and that Macbeth’s "black and deep desires"

will be earnestly enjoyed by all who attend "tomorrow and tomorrow and

tomorrow."

The dense fog that first reveals the "the weird sisters," the backdrop

of black shadow-revealing curtains that dominate designer Michael

Schweikardt’s stark no frills setting and Brenda Gray’s ominously dark

lighting all appear to be in keeping with the prevailing mood of

imminent treachery and subterfuge. The mood is as dominant as is

Monte’s precisely executed staging. But there is nothing in the

haunting atmospherics that prepares us for the dazzling electrical

fireworks that light up the stage when Macbeth and his Lady are upon

it.

There is little doubt that Robert Cuccioli (Macbeth) and Laila Robins

(Lady Macbeth) are a couple in real life and it gives their intimacies

a decided boost. Consider the moments, as when Lady M leaps into

Macbeth’s open arms, her legs straddling his waist and he gives her an

affectionate slap on the derriere, or when he returns in kind a

passionately offered mouth. These are clearly characters marked by

their consuming need for and dependence upon each other — at least

while things are going their way.

But even as their best, if ill-laid, plans begin to go awry in long

ago Scotland, there remain for us to relish the psychologically

entwined aspects of their disintegrating relationship. Considering all

the formidable actors who have tackled these roles, including

Christopher Plummer and Kate Reid, Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren,

Anthony Hopkins and Diana Rigg (and the list goes on and on), I am

eager to nominate Cuccioli and Robins to the list of the

distinguished.

The "Tragedy of Macbeth" has perplexed innumerable directors and

actors for over 375 years. To put it concisely, it is not an easy play

to perform. Scholars have acknowledged that the numerous additions and

deletions by other hands have resulted in some awkward transitions in

both character and scene development. Many of the world’s finest

actors have been unable to co-exist on stage with the dual

responsibility of projecting a character that is noble, kind and

sensitive, and yet ambitious to a fault by succumbing not only to his

wife’s all-consuming desire for power, but also to progostications of

the mistress of the witches, who (in this instance) bears a remarkable

likeness to Lady M. Murder after murder is justified superficially,

but Macbeth’s methodic deterioration in mind and spirit must be the

foremost goal of the actor or we lose all compassion for this pitiable

but heroic figure.

Cuccioli, who is probably best known for his portrayal on Broadway of

"Jekyll and Hyde," and is celebrating his fifth season with the NJ

Shakespeare Theater, is considerably more inspired by his Lady M than

he was by Cleopatra in "Antony and Cleopatra" a few seasons ago. He

reveals Macbeth’s steady mental deterioration as a man unwittingly

corrupted by the woman he loves and trusts.

I wouldn’t call Cuccioli’s Macbeth the last word on Macbeth, but his

performance reaches well into a vivid, if still essentially

decomposing, Macbeth. Except for the night porter’s (amusingly played

by Eric Hoffman) "knock, knock" scene, Cuccioli gets his sole laugh

uttering, "Twas a rough night." Twas indeed. Because all hinges on one

actor’s ability to bring dimension to so many qualities both noble and

ignoble, I can see the almost tortuous demands that are made upon the

actor who tackles it. "Hamlet" must seem like a breeze in comparison.

Lady Macbeth is the play’s real motivating force and the one who

triggers Macbeth’s crimes by manipulating his subconscious desire for

the throne. In this instance, we also have the dangerously luminous

Robins as the ambitious woman whose conscience seems to war against

her resolutions for a total of about 30 seconds. Robins, who has

numerous Broadway credits, including last season’s acclaimed "Frozen,"

and who has been active on the NJ Shakespeare Theater stage for eight

seasons is nothing less than a keg of unstable dynamite.

It is

thrilling to see how, dressed in costumer Frank Champa’s sensual and

cleavage revealing gowns, her long blonde hair at liberty, she uses

her sex and Macbeth’s strength to fulfill her own ends.

In the famed sleep-walking scene, Robins exposes Lady M.’s guilty

conscience with fiery resoluteness that is both chilling and

heartbreaking. This production is heavily metaphysical in nature, and

almost all of the characters reflect aspects of Macbeth’s own persona.

It is striking, for example, how Monte uses the witches. Cloaked in

black hooded robes, they hover and spy on the action even as they

invade Macbeth’s dreams. The famed "double toil and trouble" potboiler

speech is given added psychological power by having the witches give

it while practicing their concerted witchery over Macbeth’s sleeping

body. And equally provocative, the witches are all young and weird

enough, but far from being hags.

As much as Michael Stewart Allen captures Banquo’s high-mindedness

whilst alive, he is even better when he returns as a bloody and

vengeful ghost to scare the daylights out of Macbeth. Gregory

Derelian, as that model of integrity McDuff, and Raphael Nash

Thompson, as the gracious Duncan, are part of an ensemble that is

excellent within yet another powerful play from the Bard.

As it is almost impossible not to interpret Shakespeare in the light

of our current state of affairs, these are a few lines from director

Monte’s program notes: "Macbeth’s journey begins with

‘self-promotion,’ moves to ‘self-defense’ and quickly spirals into

addiction. He becomes addicted to violence as a solution, immune to

fear, seduced by power, monstrous in his arrogance and an expert in

twisting truth – not only for others but for himself as well." Monte

reminds us that the time is always right to say, and as Macbeth says

in his final words in the play, "Hold, enough."

– Simon Saltzman

Macbeth, to November 19, F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater, 36 Madison

Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison (on the campus of Drew University).

$26 to $48. Call 973-408- 5600.


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