Last Friday, I took my girlfriend to see a play for her ___th birthday. She’d been hoping to see Alan Cumming’s Macbeth before it closed on July 14th, and circumstances happened to work in our favor. A few weeks ago, I happened across a Macbeth street team member, who was handing out coupons. Thanks to the coupon, we got pretty decent seats for a pretty decent price.
We got to the 42nd St. station about an hour before the house opened, mainly because we got burned by the A train last week. I usually don’t mind getting downtown for a show a little early, since it gives us some time to leisurely stroll around (re: dodge tourists and look at stuff), but it happened to be raining, meaning our usual spots for passing time were packed. We usually like to hit Schmackary’s Cookies for some delicious—if pricey—baked goods. But the line was out the door, and all of the tables were occupied.
We decided to pass on the cookies, and instead popped our umbrellas and headed for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The lobby was open, but it was still only 7pm, meaning we had about half an hour to kill. While we were standing outside the theatre, I had my first celebrity sighting in New York. Well, it might have been my first sighting. I’m actually pretty terrible about recognizing famous people in public. I can recognize actors across movies and TV, but get rid of the screen or the stage, and they’re just sweaty New Yorkers trying to get somewhere.
Anyway, this time I recognized Jessica Hecht. For you theatre folks, she was most recently in The Assembled Parties and Harvey. For you TV people, she was Walter White’s lost love in Breaking Bad and Ross’s ex-wife’s lesbian lover Susan in Friends. How did I know it was her? Well, it helped that The Assembled Parties was in the theatre next door.
We entered the theatre a little after 7:30 and took our seats in the front mezzanine. We were in the second row, which turned out to be a pretty good place to watch the show (except for the kids in front of us—more on that shortly). The play is set in an asylum, the towering walls covered with sea foam green tiles redolent of a 1950s bathroom. Steel stairs on stage left led to the only door, one story up and locked via keypad. A large window stood up center, also on the second story. While the play was almost entirely a one-man show, two other performers served as a nurse and a doctor, and they would frequently pass by the window, occasionally stopping to watch the patient. Finally, there were three large flatscreen monitors hung above the stage, each of them connected to cameras mounted atop the walls of the set.
The show itself was phenomenal. The lights and sound helped create an eerie atmosphere throughout, drawing you into the asylum. Mr. Cumming was fantastic, as expected. He managed to portray each character as an individual, with mannerisms and props to help distinguish between them. Macbeth, for instance, continually ran his fingers through is hair, while Banquo continually passed an apple from hand to hand. Some characters were quite unexpected, such as his effeminate portrayal of Duncan. Others were quite fascinating, like his use of a baby doll to represent Duncan, meaning the doll became king of Scotland at the end of the play. At another point, he treated a child’s sweater as Macduff’s son, which he violently drowned in the onstage bathtub. It was an especially shocking moment in the play, much more than you’d expect from essentially watching someone do laundry.
The final twist of this adaptation comes at the end, when the two staff members leave Mr. Cumming on his bed. As they turn to leave, he utters the witch’s line, “When shall we three meet again?” He effectively suggests that this character goes through the events of Macbeth in a neverending cycle which, as my girlfriend put it, means it’s now two sad stories.
The only downside to the performance was the kids sitting in front of us. When I say kids, mind you, I mean teenagers. They were clearly not that interested in being at this show, as they were eternally restless. Since they were in the front row of the mezzanine, they continually leaned forward on the railing in front of them, effectively cutting off our view of the front half of the stage. They typically stayed in this position until I’d just figured out how to adjust my own view, at which point they’d sit back up, lean on one another, or pet one another. And the petting, geez. I don’t consider myself a prude, and I understand that teenagers will be teenagers. But these kids, who I hope were a couple, couldn’t stop trying to find new places to rub each other. Head, back, shoulders, neck, leg, knee, side, ear, face, and probably other places that I don’t need to know about. I’m glad that young people are going to the theatre, even if they have to be dragged there by their parents. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be annoyed when they get in my way.
Anyway, the show was a hit, and we left around 10pm. As we stepped outside into the rain, we decided against our usual post-show cheesecake. Between the rain and the show (1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission), we were drained, and we just wanted to get back uptown. It was a great show, and I was glad we got the chance to see it before it closed. It’s one of those moments that make me glad I live in New York, where I can board a train and in 20 minutes see cultural and theatrical events that I couldn’t see anywhere else.