- Last Updated: 11:22 AM, July 9, 2012
- Posted: 10:26 PM, July 8, 2012
Rose Theater in the Time Warner Center, 60th Street and Broadway; 212-721-6500. Through July 14.
Near the beginning of “Macbeth,” a character observes, “Have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?”
It’s a line the creators of this production, which just opened at the Lincoln Center Festival, took literally.
Directed by John Tiffany (“Once”) and Andrew Goldberg, this high-concept “Macbeth” is a 100-minute journey inside the troubled mind of a mental patient (Alan Cumming), who runs through the tragedy by impersonating all of its characters.
As the show begins, our narrator enters his living quarters — tiled in a sickly green, the loft-like asylum looks like it hasn’t been renovated since the 1930s. He changes into white loony-bin loungewear. An orderly (Ali Craig) and a doctor (Myra McFadyen) place his personal belongings in brown paper bags, then exit.
Our man is left alone with his thoughts, which involve reliving the “Scottish play” — Cumming performs in his native brogue, which is a nice touch.
One-man Shakespeares aren’t all that rare: There are several such takes on “Hamlet,” and the great British actor Stephen Dillane once did a quirky solo “Macbeth” in which the Lady occasionally broke into French.
Here the framing device has at least some internal logic, as our obsessive storyteller goes from character to character as if in a fugue state, while the hospital’s staff observe him from a viewing gallery.
This is an intense performance from the chameleon-like Cumming, whose résumé ranges from the Tony-winning decadent MC of “Cabaret” to his recurring gig as Eli Gold, the cunning spin doctor of “The Good Wife.”
The most compelling scenes involve Macbeth and his wife. Moving a bath towel from his waist to his chest, Cumming switches from one to another with casual brilliance. A seduction on a bed has a cold-blooded eroticism.
Tiffany and Goldberg are very effective with the witches, who are represented via three closed-circuit monitors, or simply through shadows. The oppressive white-noise sound design by Fergus O’Hare also suggests a nightmarish atmosphere.
Yet despite these qualities, the show’s ultimately a slog.
First, forget about making sense of what’s going on if you’re not familiar with the play. You’ll be left wondering who the doll is representing, or who’s Cumming meant to be when he’s doing a dignified old dude.
And once you’re past the framing device, there aren’t any insights of note on “Macbeth” itself.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that this boils down to a stunt that’s more fun for Cumming and the directors than it is for the audience.