When a mind is lost where does it go? If you are Alan Cumming at Lincoln Center you venture into the world of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth; not the man, the play. In this ostensibly one-man play Mr. Cumming plays all the most vivid and recognizable parts while a patient in an institution. He descends into custody after a criminal event. The play opens to the stirring pantomime of him being undressed by attendants (Ali Craig and Myra McFadyen.) Evidence is collected, gently and cooly from; beneath his nails, inside his wounds and mouth. He is allowed to hold onto one evidence bag. A bag we assume holds the emotional evidence of the crime. The attendants climb the stairs and reach for the door as the first audible lines are spoken; “When shall we three meet again.”
So begins the tour de force that is this Macbeth production from the National Theatre of Scotland. It is a Herculean undertaking this play within a play. To convincingly construe a device to deliver a one-man Macbeth is no easy feat. Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg this stunning production hits the mark with only one or two relatively small hiccups. The creative alchemy of the; storyline, set (Merle Hensel,) sound (Fergus O’Hare,) image (Ian William Galloway,) characterization and staging work to keep the audience mesmerized. Without the excellent staging or performance it would be impossible to follow this play. Mr. Cumming easily transforms himself into (at times dueling) characters. He often achieves this with only his body and voice although there is a prop or two also engaged. We are helped to follow these transitions with real time projections.
What is most remarkable about this Macbeth is not Macbeth. It is a tale, told through Macbeth of a man’s descent into insanity. Clever devices such as the attendants appearing to periodically anesthetize Cumming, or the closed circuit cameras (producing the projections) in his locked ward remind us of what we’re watching. We are forced outside of Macbeth at the appearance of the Lady’s bloody hands. The lady’s hallucination becomes the patient’s hallucination becomes stigmata as the attendants look fruitlessly for a source for the blood. We are reminded of the ill man on display during more than one emotional collapse. A heart wrenching yet contained Cumming dissolves and curls into himself. One of these devolutions has an attendant carrying him to the bed. This event can only be called a pas des deux. There is much beautiful movement (Christine Devaney) in this production, but it is this particular dance that clutches the heart.
It can be seductive to forget that we are not watching a Macbeth, but a man who is lost in the world of Macbeth. Cumming’s portrayal of all the characters is so convincing (and at times very funny.) He manages to capture the sexual chemistry between husband and wife with nothing more than his own body. Toward the end of the play we discover the content of his evidence bag. Our imaginations easily construe countless plausible explanations for this man’s psychiatric demise. It is not clear he will ever recover. The last words spoken are; “When shall we three meet again” suggesting we are inside the endless loop that is his mind.