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 of the play’s sinister tone of “fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
As Macbeth, Stoll’s manner is assured. His bearing is that of a commander or a king. There are echoes of his dazzling performance as Marcus Brutus in a Trump-like era Julius Caesar a couple of years ago at 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. Doyle not only staged the production, but also designed the simple, kingly settings, dramatically lit by Solomon Weisbard.
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 alluded 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.
Stoll’s poetic language is strong and melodious. He speaks most of the play’s soliloquies well, such as the great one that begins, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” 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 Banquo’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, heart and soul are in Stoll's performance.
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 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 – Doyle’s compact Macbeth becomes a unique and strong mini-look at Shakespeare’s tragic Scottish tale.