Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 3,
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
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
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
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.
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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