Classic Stage Company, Lynn F. Angelson Theater
136 East 13th St. between Third & Fourth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 15, $82-$127
Manhattan native and NYU grad Corey Stoll has quickly become a go-to Shakespearean actor in the city, playing Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida in 2016, Brutus in Julius Caesar in 2017, and Iago in Othello in 2018, all for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte. His easygoing manner brings a compelling humanity to his performances, which also include runs in Law & Order: LA, House of Cards, The Strain, and The Deuce. And that humanity is again evident as he stars as the title character in John Doyle’s streamlined adaptation of the Bard’s Macbeth, continuing at Classic Stage through December 15.
Doyle’s spare set is a rectangular platform with a large wooden throne at one end; above it is a balcony. The actors are always visible, either onstage or standing in the back, watching and waiting. They are dressed in Ann Hould-Ward’s dark Tartan costumes, although it is difficult to tell the individual clans apart or when an actor is playing a different role, as several have multiple parts without costume changes. (The witches are played by most of the company, not a trio of actors.) Lady Macbeth is played by Nadia Bowers (Describe the Night, Life Sucks.), Stoll’s real-life wife, lending a sweet intimacy to their scenes together even as they plot murder most foul. Their sexuality heats up the stage, even as some sly jokes might be a bit much; for example, when Lady Macbeth says, “Come you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood, / Stop up th’access and passage to remorse,” Bowers, sitting on the floor, grabs her crotch in a rather un-Shakespearean manner.
Barzin Akhavan is a fine Macduff, Erik Lochtefeld a touching Banquo, Tony nominee Mary Beth Peil a quietly regal Duncan, and Raffi Barsoumian a solid Malcolm; the cast also features N’Jameh Camara as Lady Macduff, Barbara Walsh as Ross, and Antonio Michael Woodard as Fleance, but it’s harder for them to establish their characters, who get lost in the shuffle. Tony winner Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company), the Scottish director who went to school near Cawdor Castle, where much of the play takes place, has trimmed the show to a muddled hundred minutes, sacrificing too much of its necessary building energy as evil ambition overwhelms Macbeth. Even such a flourish as a bowl of water where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wash the blood off their hands remains onstage too long, going impossibly unseen in front of others.
There are various versions of the Scottish play one can experience now or soon, including the Roundabout’s musical adaptation, Scotland, PA, at the Laura Pels through December 8, the long-running Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel, a return engagement of Erica Schmidt’s Red Bull schoolgirl version by the Hunter Theater Project starting in January, and Primary Stages’ Peerless, set in the world of college admissions, next spring. But you won’t go wrong with Stoll, who rises above Doyle’s messy confusion, delivering a compelling and even cathartic Macbeth, who could be any of us, lured in by power. When he says, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee,” we all see it, and consider reaching for its glittering promise.