Sunday, April 28, 2013

Macbeth: Alan Cumming Is A One Man Wrecking Machine


The whole idea of this blog is to express what it is to be a nerd.  There is more to it than just what you watch or how you act, it's about having intense passion.  And I have an intense passion for theatre.  I am a self proclaimed theatre nerd.  I see as much as I can, but it's tough with theatre being so expensive.  So, I go to my fair share of more affordable off and off off and off off off Broadway shows, which, honestly, are sometimes are better than many Broadway productions I've seen.  But when I was walking to work and saw the Macbeth with Alan Cumming sign erected I knew, that no matter how much I had to spend, I was seeing this show.  And last night I did.  Never in my life have I been so blown away by a piece of theatre.  Never.  Half of my brain actually fell out of my head.  I'm writing this with half a brain.


Now, before I get into the show I have to be honest.  I am a monster Alan Cumming fan.  I was first drawn to him in the 90s when the commercials for Cabaret started airing in New York.  I never got to see him in it, but I remember being drawn to him, dying to see it, but by the time I got to, he was long gone.  Then, I saw Spy Kids.  How could that be the same man!?  And then I realized it was too late.  I was in love.  Alan Cumming is a chameleon and I think that is the sexiest thing in the world.  He is a fearless actor who is not afraid of any role, even if the movie is crap it doesn't matter to him.  He cares about his craft and he is brave in it.  No two Alan Cumming performances are the same, and when I found out that he was actually SCOTTISH, well, my head fell off.  His mastery of accents is unbelievable from a staunch American in  Reefer Madness the Movie Musical, to a posh English in Emma to thick German in X2: X-Men United.  When I was in high school I was involved in the school choir. We had to have plain black binders, but we decorated the inside.  While other girls had Leonardo DiCaprio or boy bands, my binder had a full body picture of Alan Cumming, and a small picture of Johnny Depp next to it.  I just adore him.


Now to Macbeth.  This was just an absolute piece of genius.  Set in a psychiatric ward, the audience walks in to find a sterile green room.  The set is amazing, and in the half hour I sat waiting for the show to begin, I tried to take in everything that was going on.  The set was littered with little things, every detailed seemed important.  The walls were a bricked in hospital green, a doll lay lifeless under a metal staircase, a viewing window for doctors to watch patients from hummed with a harsh florescent light and an old fashion white porcelain bathtub gave a sort of creepy feel.  The whole set made you want to shiver, this is the kind of place people have nightmares about, the kind of hospital horror movies come to life in.  I was already put slightly on edge before a single thing even happened.

Finally, the show begins and we see a Doctor and an Orderly taking all of Cumming's things and stuffing them into evidence bags.  They also take DNA samples from both his mouth and deep scratch marks on his chest the resemble the letter M.  As they go to leave, he takes one of the evidence bags, and the Doctor allows him to keep it.  Just as the Doctor and Orderly walk out the first line of the play is delivered "When shall we three meet again?"  And then the magic begins.



Cumming takes on nearly every role in Shakespeare's famed tragedy.  Going in I couldn't believe this was possible.  How could one person play so many characters?  Especially when most of them are killed... especially when most of them kill each other?  But it happens and it is glorious.  I was hooked by the first scene with Macbeth, Banquo and the Weird Sisters.  Now, Banquo was represented the entire show by an apple Cumming tosses around.  Macbeth was the only character that had no specific representation.  But I kept wondering... how the hell are they going to pull off the three weird sisters?  And suddenly, three security cameras that I hadn't noticed came to life, each one attached to three different TV screens that hung above the set.  Cumming talks into each camera corresponding with a different TV screen hanging above the set giving you three weird sisters.  It was amazing.  As the play went on, little things signified each character, Malcolm was represented by the creepy doll, the King Duncan has his throne (a dilapidated padded hospital chair) and a posh English accent.  But most impressively, Cumming gave what maybe my favorite version of Lady Macbeth, a sensual, sexual woman who we first meet in that horrifying bathtub.  The scenes between Macbeth and his wife were the most incredible as Cumming jumps around the room having a conversation with himself, true insanity coming through as his Doctor watches from the viewing room above.  


The set is used the entire time, lights going on an off, psych bells ringing, the Orderly and Doctor coming in and out to make sure he hasn't hurt himself.  Your senses are assaulted constantly as horrifying music and sounds play as Macbeth falls deeper and deeper into madness.  When the lights go out, the security cameras show us whats going on in the terrifying green hues of night vision before the lights snap back on momentarily blinding the audience.  You start to go a little mad yourself as Cumming starts playing three and four characters at a time, leaping and bounding around this mad stage, the cameras following him, the Doctor watching him.  I literally sat at the edge of my seat, and even as small bits of humor shined through, but they end I had my hand on my mouth, tears in my eyes, literally shaking and waiting for that cathartic moment that couldn't come soon enough.  I wish I could tell you everything about this, but my hope is that Macbeth has been taped because the world needs to see what happened on this stage and I don't want to ruin everything.



Cumming is not the only one to be commended.  The direction of this show was insane, they made it work, but I can understand why it was a two person undertaking.  The show was directed by both John Tiffany (who directed Once which I just saw a few weeks ago and loved, highly recommend) and Andrew Goldberg.  I would love to sit and pick their brains about this show, because while it was Macbeth, I want to know about the mental patient.  When the Doctor and Orderly are in the room, we see the shell of a man.  It's not Macbeth or any of Shakespeare's characters, it's just a man.  But who is he?  What name is written on his ID bracelet?  How did he get here?  The madness is apparent, but how did it all come about?

I could just go on and on about this show, but the truth is there are no words to describe how it made me feel, how even a day after it's still making me feel.  I left the theatre actually shaking, which has never happened to me before.  I only wish that more people would be able to experience it, but I think Cumming would drop dead if they did any more performances, because what he is doing is grueling.  At 26 I can't imagine doing all of the physical work he is doing for this show and he is nearly 20 years older than me.  At the end of the night, I walk away with Cummings autograph, but that's not what matters.  What matters is that in that performance he somehow changed me, and I think every person at the Ethal Barrymore Theatre.