This is the third play I have reviewed this year in which a single actor plays at least two major roles and up to 20 minor ones—all at once. . It’s a feat that could so easily be embarrassing and awful but instead it was a tour de force which takes a master to pull it off. This actor, Tom Gualtieri, is just such a master.
In That Play (Gualtieri’s synonym for Macbeth, as opposed “the Scottish play,” which allows the speaker not to call down upon his head the curses, connected in theatrical lore with the utterance of Macbeth’s name) it is as if we have clearly seen Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, generals, noblemen and weird sisters, for the first time . Gualtieri plays males, females, and creatures of indeterminate sex; weeping, howling, champing upon the scenery with intense and powerful speeches, exhibiting signs of rage and paranoia. The speeches uttered by the key characters, at the peak of terrible grandiose emotion, are cut down to size by low comedians like the gatekeeper but more importantly, by some coarse, wicked and very funny sidebars by the Actor.
And this experience is especially intense because, we are hearing Macbeth in 90 minutes- some of the most beautiful and eloquent Shakespearean dialogue without the stage directions, reminiscences and other stuffing—and as the dialogue comes to mind we remember as if it were the first time how the English language is filled with Shakespeare and with the language of Macbeth. The very first set of speeches by the bearded “weird sisters” condenses the political scene; summarizes the upcoming conflict; hints at horror to come; and in an unforgettable couplet lets us know that we cannot trust our senses as we survey Scotland under Macbeth’s rule—that nothing is as it seems, and that all is terribly awry in this kingdom At one time many a high school English teachers, grateful for a great classic also guaranteed to grab the attention of their students, attempted to ensure that every kid committed these speeches to memory. And many of us did.
And it wasn’t only high school students who came to love Macbeth. Of the weird sisters, Gualtieri wryly comments— “Sure! Just what a mighty Scottish general in doubts about his future would do—go to consult the opinion of three old ladies, their toad and their kitty on a blasted heath!” Okay. And to be sure, the witches wore beards; they had as their familiars a toad and a gray cat; and they appeared to be able to predict the future at the highest levels. Who couldn’t love three cackling unsightly witches with the mighty powers of prediction?
SCENE I. A desert place.
Thunder and lightning.
Enter three Witches
When shall we three meet again ?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain.
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
I come, Graymalkin!
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair.” This chant of the weird sisters is the symbolic heart of the play. The motto “Fair is foul and foul is fair”—symbolizes the juxtaposition of false and true, of feigned and real. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both feign kindness towards their intended victim, King Duncan. Lady Macbeth, a powerful and beautiful queen, calls upon unearthly powers to “unsex her”—so that she may seem a woman yet behave like a man, and kill King Duncan without regret. Macbeth sees a bloody dagger in mid-air, a figure of his guilt which exists only in his mind but symbolizes the fact that he has used a dagger to kill King Duncan. And Lady Macbeth sees imaginary blood all over her hands; symbolizing her moral complicity with her husband in the killing of Duncan, and is terrified. And she terrifies others who see only a haunted queen and do not see the blood on her hands but clearly see her agonized sense of guilt—before the queen kills herself.
And all the while, actor Gualtieri is spinning about, portraying three weird sisters, the royal couple, King Duncan, and the doctor who soberly views the madness of Lady Macbeth and comments that she has need of physic but not the kind he can offer. It is a dizzying performance- shifting from cackling, evil, old ladies to strong, muscular shouting kingly figures to stately dignified yet inwardly evil kings and queens, in all their variations—culminating in the semblance of true wickedness for Macbeth and tragic haunted madness, for his queen. To the doctor, a final, sober harbinger of the evil to come to Scotland.
In a word, brilliant! Go see it! It’s marvelous!
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That Play – A Solo Macbeth
Stage Left Studio
214 West 30th Street
Through November 19, 2012