Last night I dragged my jet lagged body over to The Ethyl Barrymore Theatre to see the the otherworldly Alan Cumming perform the entirety of Shakespeare's MacBeth virtually by himself. Yes, he played nearly every character himself. Set in a hospital mental institution with two other actors serving as medical staff and occasional voices of the witches, they monitored Cumming character as he did the entire play in his hospital room. You got the feeling that Cumming the mental patient performs the play as ritual quite often and the staff was studying him for the sake of science. It was a fascinating way to justify the awkwardness of performing the entire play alone.
Cumming is phenomenal. He inhabits each character with just enough differentiation to prevent it from becoming farcical. In fact his only character that approaches silliness is Duncan, whom he portrays as sort of a "Queenly" King. It was welcome humor given the weightiness of the rest of his performance.
The thing that impressed me the most is that Cumming's MacBeth is not the hardened warrior, but rather a powerful man who allowed himself to be influenced by his wife and others into doing something he normally would never have done: murder for power. At the end he comes to this realization in one of the most heart wrenching moments I have ever seen on stage. I found myself completely empathizing with the man MacBeth and his unfortunate fate in a way I didn't know was possible with this character. The "sound and fury" speech was one of the best Shakespeare moments I have ever seen. This MacBeth became a boy lost, a boy realizing that he was utterly alone in the world, and that his past choices brought him to this hopeless spot. It was so sad and so utterly enthralling.