Review of Macbeth, starring Corey Stoll, at Classic Stage Company

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    October 28, 2019
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    A heralded Scottish general, contented with what he has achieved, stumbles upon witches during his travels returning home from war and receives a prophecy from them that he will become King of Scotland. Telling his wife the prophecy, she becomes consumed by ambition and spurs him on to murder the King and ascend to the throne. He becomes tortured with guilt and paranoia of his deed and commits more and more murders to protect his place and becomes a tyrant out of fear. A civil war ensues and the pressure to keep those forces at bay leads him and his wife to madness and ultimately death.

    The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (If you see just the name Macbeth as the title of a play, you can probably assume it will be a shortened and edited version). You know it, greed, power, ambition, taunting the fates, murder and mayhem. You’ve probably seen a production or two with different variations on its central theme of power and corruption.

    If you go to Classic Stage Company’s (CSC) Macbeth (and you should), now playing through December 15th, and this is your first Macbeth, do some research first, read up on it, what the story is and who the players are, and prepare yourself as this production might be confusing for a first-timer. There are about 30 characters in the original version, but only nine actors in this production and if you don’t know the story, all the doubling up may be confusing. Each actor in their time plays many parts. Gender is not adhered to, characters are cut, scenes are reduced and obliterated (run time is 100 minutes). I know the play relatively well and was confused at times having to play catch-up when I realized who was who and what was what. This is not a criticism whatsoever, but just a prep talk.

    This is as much a CSC production as it is Shakespeare’s play. CSC’s mission is to re-imagine the classical repertory for a contemporary American audience that speaks to today’s issues. Greed and power have been today’s issues since the dawn of man and our current world is no exception. What CSC has brought to this production is a paring down and concerted throughline to the piece.

    CSC’s artistic director, John Doyle, has designed and directed a bare-bones Macbeth. The elevated thrust stage, with balcony, is simple darkened wood with a large oversized wooden throne upstage center. Several benches get carried on where deemed necessary, but in essence, with this production, it’s about the words, the play, the relationships, betrayals, and the story with no artifice applied, letting the actors exercise their talents to the storytelling.

    Nadia Bowers and Corey Stoll, as the Macbeths, deliver with personal power and unfettered determination the relationship that is the keystone to the play. Without Mrs., Mr. would not have taken the steps he did up the stairway to the throne. Just below the surface of that relationship, there was an immaturity to the title character that I felt was played by Mr. Stoll that furthered and strengthened the manipulation of Lady Macbeth allowing for Ms. Bowers’ personal power to pour forth.

    The admirable acting of Mary Beth Peil as King Duncan and Barzin Akhavan as Malcolm both delivered emotionally convincing turns that helped to give solid strength to what Macbeth has to push against.

    Macbeth is a tragic tale of ruinous and consuming power, the psychology of which overwhelms with blind ambition and destructiveness more than just the title character. Swept up by avarice this production delivers on its malicious intentions and gruesome murders.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "Macbeth, which opened Sunday, is an anatomy of corruption, inscribing the path from power foretold to power seized to power clung to at all costs. As directed by John Doyle, the company’s artistic director, it is also profoundly human, even with its chorus of witches to incant their visions of Macbeth’s rise to the Scottish throne — predictions that he, at first, finds so unnerving that he tries to shake them off."
    Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times

    "Stoll makes clear sense of the verse, though his Macbeth doesn’t seem to find a doomed descent into treachery too out of the ordinary. But even in a production that skims the surface, Nadia Bowers seems out of her depth as his conniving wife. As the body count mounts and real feeling is required, the result is melodrama and inadvertent humor. When the hurlyburly’s done, the battle’s far more lost than won."
    Naveen Kumar for Time Out New York

    "Even theatergoers familiar with Macbeth are liable to be confused by John Doyle’s pared-down 100-minute production, which opened Sunday at Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Company and plays like a highlights reel for students who just need to bone up on the major bits before the final exam and don’t have time to even read the full CliffsNotes."
    Thom Geier for The Wrap

    "You get a plethora of witches in the new production of Macbeth at off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company. Rather than the usual measly three performers, nearly the entire nine-person ensemble recites the witches' lines at one point or another in this version directed by John Doyle. But that's pretty much the only thing you get in abundance in this wan, undernourished staging."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter