Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Scottish Play - Alan Cumming's Macbeth...

...and Lady Macbeth and MacDuff and King Duncan and Malcolm and Banquo and the Three Witches...

We RUSHED -  RUSHED! - to treat ourselves to tickets to Alan Cumming's Macbeth on Broadway.   (See the green and white BROADWAY sign behind us?)  We loved him as Saturninus waaaay back in Julie Taymor's Titus Andronicus, in the Cabaret revival and in Brecht's Threepenny Opera, so when we had this rare opportunity, we looted our clothing allowance for a night at the theater.  Cumming's Macbeth is a limited engagement - understandably, since it is practically a one-man show - grueling work for anyone - and Alan is on stage from start to finish.  The good news is that the show was recently extended two weeks, to run through July 14th.  So, what are you waiting for? Get your derrieres in gear and see it.

The poster outside the Barrymore theater gives a short synopsis of the play, set in a psychiatric ward, to which a single patient (our man Alan) is admitted. The obvious victim (or perpetrator?) of some off-stage personal tragedy, the protagonist proceeds to single-handedly act out the main characters in Macbeth. The ultimate in Shakespearean tragedies, "the Scottish play" as it is known to the theater world, contains all of the fodder of today's tabloids: ambition, desire and murder most foul. The only other characters, a physician and an orderly, show up only briefly (and mostly wordlessly) on a periodic basis throughout the show.

When the first line is uttered, we know we're in for a treat.  As the physician and orderly leave their patient, he asks them, plaintively, "When shall we three meet again?", drawing the audience in, and changing the dynamic of the play from the very start.  Then three surveillance cameras loudly turn on him in succession, and as they do his face appears on three large flat screens atop the stage in the midst of a vibrantly graphic static display, and he plays each witch's role in turn.  The 100-minute performance has no intermission, all the better to sustain the quietly horrific atmosphere.

There are very few props, but all are used to maximum effect.  Early in the play, Cumming's character finds a doll as he inspects his cell.  This he soon uses to portray Malcolm, son of Duncan, the King of Scotland, and next in line to the throne.  For a moment he treats the doll tenderly, but shows Macbeth's true intentions when he punches the doll savagely and sends it flying across the room to lie in a heap.  (Photo below by Jeremy Daniel for The Daily News)

Amazingly, there are two separate scenes played in a full bath tub.  (Inquiring minds want to know: is it kept heated?)  A towel is used as a sublimely clever prop in a scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  To portray Lady Macbeth, Cumming raises the towel to cover his chest; when Macbeth responds, the towel is lowered to his navel, economically folding the role of the madman in at the same time.  (Photo below by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times)

Another wonderful prop is the rolling white hospital chair which, for those of us who have seen too many movies, often conjures up strait jackets.  Cumming has learned to glide around the stage in this chair as if in roller blades.  When the King of Scotland has a scene, this becomes his throne.  Cumming - or Cumming's patient - plays Duncan as a buffoon, with a pompous English accent (sharply differentiated from the other characters' Scottish accents) and given to undignifed smirks.  When moving onstage, Cumming is athletic and balletic, the grace and agility of his madman adding to the total effect.

On the evening we went, the Big Apple was in the midst of an unseasonable cold spell. The daytime high was only 54 degrees (!!), with on-and-off drizzle. By the end of the show as we waited at the stage door, the night air was downright nippy, and we were both shivering. Gene, Mr. Cumming's major domo, assured us that he would appear and sign autographs. Good to his word, the understated star appeared and individually greeted each and every one of the dozens of fans waiting patiently behind the barriers and signed their playbills.  (That includes Yours Trulies.  And we gave him a signed copy of Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas in return.  For his mom, of course.)

Alan looked quite the British gentleman (actually, he now has an OBE - Order of the British Empire - which might make him more than a gentleman) in casual attire, a far cry from his more outlandish roles in Cabaret and The Anniversary Party. His hat and beautiful scarf and coat give you a fair idea of how cool the evening temperature really was.  (For some great Alan Cumming trivia - interview, video, etc. - scroll waaaay down.)

We took one last look at the fascinating bloody visage outside the Barrymore Theater before retiring just across the street to the W Hotel's lounge for a little nightcap to the evening.

After a few minutes at the bar at The Blue Fin in the W's lobby, we warmed up and scored a table next to the window so we could watch the real show going on outside on the sidewalk. No lie.  Grown men dressed as Batman and two other Marvel Comic Superheroes (one in red and silver with silver helmet and sword) stood around on the corner on Broadway chatting and getting their photos taken with passersby. Obviously, we were too hungry and thirsty to remember to photograph our delicious appetizers before they were devoured. Jean had grilled asparagus and Valerie had salmon nigiri. We both had tequila-based cocktails which the bartendress (is that a word?) very graciously customized for us, combining a number of ingredients from other drinks on the menu. The results? As you can see from the photo, neither of us had any complaints!

We spotted Jason, one of the waiters, and greatly admired his chock-a-block mohawk.

The added treat? Jason's creative use of color! It was definitely a show-stopper. And, it looked strangely familiar!

Coincidentally, we had each just received a scarf from Amy Nguyen, a very talented textile designer whose work we have admired for years at the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show and a number of other venues.  Her work is also featured on Artful Home's website.  While sitting at our table in the W, we opened Amy's handsomely wrapped packages,  which contained long black hand-dyed silk scarves. Jean's scarf had a red square motif that eerily echoed Jason's hairdo.  Really, what are the chances?  Our mojo was definitely working that night!  Here's Jean's:

And here's Valerie's, with gray squares.  If you look carefully, you can see the glint of silver in the threads that stitch down the very slim folds in the material.

After comparing notes on the show and catching each other up on all the news of the world, we headed out into Times Square, which at 11 PM at night was almost as bright as high noon.  Maybe "the city never sleeps", but we do!  We walked to the east side and parted ways to return to our respective abodes, happy as little clams. (How happy are clams, anyway?)


For an in-depth interview Kurt Andersen did with Alan Cumming for Studio 360 (uncut and uncensored), click here.

Alan Cumming has his own website, the home page of which shows him in any number of past personae.  For that, click here.

In this little YouTube treat, Cumming performs That's Life.
Did you listen to the interview?  Then you know Alan has his own perfume, Cumming.  (And a new one called - what else? - Second Cumming.)  To see the commercial for the first perfume, click - no, not THERE!  Click on the ARROW. The ARROW!


  1. Oooh, what a fun night out! That looks like a riveting version of The Scottish Play, I do like Alan Cumming. Jason's hair is very cool, as are your scarves. I'll have to wait til I get home to watch the videos; something tells me that the perfume one is NSFW ;)

  2. Oh my, that is one very provocative ad for Cumming The Fragrance. Looks as though he had lots of fun making it, too!
    jill in Ontario