Alan Cumming gets emotionally — and actually — naked in his one-man (well, two other actors join him on stage for a few minutes, and a doll that plays kind of a key role) performance of Macbeth, running through July 14 at the Rose Theater in New York. Last night’s first preview — after a June run at the National Theatre of Scotland — ended with three well-deserved standing ovations.
This one-man Macbeth takes place in an unnamed psychiatric institution, where Cumming is the only nutjob in residence. He gives up his possessions — save a paper bag inside of which is part of the key to the mystery of why he’s locked away, though we never find out the entire backstory of what is in the bag — and begins monologuing, using the words of the play Macbeth.
Which he recites in its entirety, taking on the roles of each character. Sometimes a well-placed towel serves to note the switch between which character’s lines Cumming is speaking, and sometimes something as simple as the turn of his head or the twisted sneer on his face is the only clue you get that he is engaged in an emotional and psychic battle with demons in the shape of witches and kings.
Three large television screens suspended high in the theater show you moments of madness, the type of footage security cameras take in places like psychiatric hospitals.
An orderly and a head nurse — or some other official-type person — round out the actors in the show (well, a faceless man appears, briefly, an apparition if you will). Though the orderly and head nurse say little, when they speak, it is somehow shocking, given you’ve only heard Cumming’s Scottish brogue for more than an hour.
Happy endings don’t routinely happen in Shakespeare, so don’t expect much of one here. Or much explanation. A madman locked away, chased by — and chasing — ghosts only he can see and hear.
You can read more about the production here: