Scotch and wry

That Play: A One Person Macbeth

Adapted by Tom Gualtieri with Heather Hill
Directed by Heather Hill
Midtown International Theatre Festival/Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Stage II
312 West 36th Street (212/279-4200;;
Equity Showcase (closes Aug. 2)
Review by David Mackler

On a dime, Tom Gualtieri shifted from one weird sister to another as well as the myriad other characters that populate That Play, Gualtieri and director Heather Hill's adaptation of the play-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned-on-stage (Macbeth, silly, not Moose Murders). And silliness is an important component of this version, which alternates a completely serious, and mostly extremely well-acted Macbeth (Gualtieri holds the stage effortlessly) with clever and amusing commentary on the play: "Can you imagine Norway at war with anyone?!" and about Lady Macbeth -- "Don't you just love a woman with a plan?"

It's this bifurcation that gives That Play its appeal, especially given Gualtieri's sharp characterizations. He can make fun of Macduff's being a stalwart "with a sensitive side," but when he was Macduff, it was a completely serious, unaffected, and genuine performance. His three witches were more delineated than ones in other presentations that have three actors in the roles, and his interplay between Lady Macduff and her son was sharp, funny, and true to the play.

If his Macbeth was a little shaky, the clarity and pithiness of the commentary clarified the action extremely well. (Even though it's short to begin with, a Macbeth at about 90 minutes has to leave out stuff.) But the glory of his Lady Macbeth was the center of the piece. She is, Gualtieri acknowledged, a character "dear to my heart," and it showed. She was treated completely seriously at the same time his commentary (and the fact that she was played by a man) gives his interpretation an insinuation of irreverence. Neither text nor performer was making fun of her, but the audience was in on the joke. Scheming and calculating and everything a good Lady Macbeth should be, with just a touch of bitchy queen to make it fun.

The black-box production benefited from well-designed (uncredited) lighting, and terrific incidental music by Erin Hill that evoked the requisite eeriness of a play with witches and ghosts. Gualtieri's costume was also right for the play and its characters -- a jacket with blood-evoking crimson inserts and lapels, and loose slacks that when held at the side, easily became a woman's long skirt.

Still, even if it was enjoyable on several levels, the point of it was a little hazy. Is it meant as an introduction to Macbeth for high-schoolers? (That Play probably works better if you know Macbeth already.) Is it meant as a post-modern deconstruction of the text? That Play is not on par with "The Reduced Shakespeare Company," but it's quite fine as an actor's showcase. And Gualtieri is a good character actor, giving even bit parts their due -- the porter, the murderers -- and his Lady Macbeth was a model because she's a character, not a heroine. Imagine him as her in a full production of M--, uh, that play.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler