Alan Cumming’s Nutty ‘Macbeth’ Looks for Tonys: Review

Photographer: Jeremy Daniel/The Publicity Office/Getty Images

The National Theatre of Scotland's production of "Macbeth" is set in a grim mental institution. The play runs at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through June 30. Close

The National Theatre of Scotland's production of "Macbeth" is set in a grim mental... Read More

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Photographer: Jeremy Daniel/The Publicity Office/Getty Images

The National Theatre of Scotland's production of "Macbeth" is set in a grim mental institution. The play runs at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through June 30.

Just in time for the Tony Awards deadline, Alan Cumming is reprising his mental-case “Macbeth” on Broadway.

Imprisoned in a grim green institution where he’s observed and sometimes medicated by a pair of observers, Cumming plays all the roles in Shakespeare’s blood-drenched portrait of power lust and a pushy queen.

The Scottish actor, now best known as the cunning political operative Eli Gold on TV’s “The Good Wife,” brings an authentic burr to the role along with several terabytes of memory.

The production, which opened last summer’s Lincoln Center Festival (where it wasn’t eligible for Tony Award nominations) struck me as even more gimmicky on second viewing. It reveals more about the actor than the would-be king.

A prologue opens the hour-and-forty-five minute show with Cumming silently trading his clothes for a hospital gown. Three TV monitors overhead buzz with noise and spy cams follow his movements. There are few histrionics and a suspenseful soundscape composed by Max Richter.

The actor’s visage is projected onto the three screens to differentiate the weird sisters, but with one exception, the histrionics are kept to a minimum. Banquo is represented by an apple in the actor’s hand; his doomed children by a doll.

Photographer: Jeremy Daniel/The Publicity Office/Getty Images

Alan Cumming in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Three TV monitors assist in setting the scenes. The music underscoring is by Max Richter. Close

Alan Cumming in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Three TV monitors assist in setting the... Read More

Close
Open
Photographer: Jeremy Daniel/The Publicity Office/Getty Images

Alan Cumming in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Three TV monitors assist in setting the scenes. The music underscoring is by Max Richter.

The scene in which Lady Macbeth tells her hesitant husband to man up and grab the fate predicted for him is played as a bedroom seduction, showing Cumming’s sexy, slinky versatility.

Dowager Queen

The only flagrant misstep in the show, staged by John Tiffany (“Once”) and Andrew Goldberg is the portrayal of King Duncan as a dowager queen.

Were I seeing this production in a storefront theater at the Edinburgh Fringe, it would seem youthful and audacious. But Cumming is a grown-up with the puppyish style of a juvenile. He has neither the compelling personal vision nor the gravitas to justify this one-man-Bard.

Through June 30 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Greg Evans on TV and Elin McCoy on wine.

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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