By William Shakespeare
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Critical Reviews

Laila Robins and Robert Cuccioli (background). Photo  Gerry Goodstein.
(Foreground) Laila Robins as Lady Macbeth and (background) Robert Cuccioli as Macbeth. Photo Gerry Goodstein.

Variety hails, "Robert Cuccioli has crafted a Macbeth of fire and intelligence"

"So courageously stunning in its concept, so dynamically different from any previous, cheers should be heard across the country," says the Princeton Packet.

Conquering Shakespeare, and Superstition
By Peter Filichia
Monday, October 25, 2004

So Joe Discher, the associate artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, came out to welcome Saturday's opening night crowd to "Macbeth" -- and in doing so, said the title of the play three times.

Some in the Madison playhouse gasped in surprise. Stage-savvy folk aren't supposed to say "Macbeth" when they're on-stage or backstage; "The Scottish Play" is the preferred euphemism. Superstition dictates that disaster will strike if "Macbeth" is even whispered.

Another notion debunked. For artistic director Bonnie J. Monte's smart production certainly wasn't harmed by Discher's uttering the feared title.

Right away, Monte shows she's up for something new. The three witches who open the play are usually cackling crones. Here they're unswervingly calm as they make their predictions that Macbeth will eventually supplant Duncan as King of Scotland. Later, when they take off their hoods, they'll be shown to be quite beautiful, too.

Monte's masterful conceit is that these witches may eventually become apparitions inside Macbeth's head. After all, any man who sees the ghost of a man he had killed (in a startlingly staged scene) could be constantly haunted. That Monte chooses to bring many more than three witches on stage (in another startlingly staged scene) well-supports Macbeth's madness.

Robert Cuccioli shrewdly plays Macbeth as an innately weak man who doesn't have The Right Stuff to be king. After he says, "I have done the deed," he seems as if he's just about to vomit. Even in moments when he's at his apex as monarch, he shows a fear that his day of reckoning will inevitably come. What dismay he shows in his sad eyes when he must meet Macduff, whom he has greatly wronged.

As Lady Macbeth, Laila Robins is riveting from her first scene, when she reads her husband's letter that mentions the witches predicted great things for him. How Robins' eyes flash when the idea of becoming Scotland's first lady first occurs to her. When Macbeth arrives, she says, "Leave all the rest to me" with unbridled optimism.

After the coup, she adapts to her queenly duties quite charmingly, too -- though she isn't above turning on her husband when he wavers. What contempt she then spews out as she questions his masculinity. Yet she too will come to the conclusion that crime, especially assassination, doesn't pay, in her harrowing last scene.

The rest of the cast scores equally well. Raphael Nash Thompson is a regal Duncan who hasn't lost the common touch. As Macduff, Gregory Derelian has the strength of a fairy-tale hero who arrives in the nick of time. Eric Hoffmann is the Porter who ably provides the bit of comic relief with jokes about sex and alcohol. What fun he is, too, in a scene where he expects a tip. The character definitely needs to be reminded that "tip" is often thought to be an acronym for "to insure prompt service." (He doesn't.)

Michael Schweikardt has provided a simple but starkly effective set. Brenda Gray compensates with effective lighting. Rick Sordelet always provides impressive stage fights, but the one here is particularly thrilling.

Does this prove that one can utter "Macbeth" in a theater? Not necessarily, but many attendees will say "Macbeth" to their friends and neighbors when telling them what show to see in the next few weeks.

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Excerpted from the review by Robert L. Daniels

Monday, October 28, 2004

Bonnie J. Monte's production of "Macbeth" for The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey has both star power and a palatable cutting thrust. Monte has paced the Bard's most foul and devious tragedy with a stealthy sense of impending doom and harnessed the fury with an unnerving severity, lending the Scottish play an austere and uncluttered sense of urgency.

Robert Cuccioli, Broadway's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, has crafted a Macbeth of fire and intelligence. There is a rugged physical strength that dominates his presence, and there lurks behind his sturdy, handsome presence a commanding blend of drive and stature.

Laila Robins is a sensual Lady Macbeth, ruthless and ambitious, full of passion. Her cunning collusion with her cautiously optimistic husband reveals a decidedly cool, foxy edge that would make any virile male submit.

Her sleepwalking scene, motivated by seeds of guilt and madness, is one of icy grandeur and potency.

The romantic moments between the plotting mates are feverishly passionate and lusty. When Macbeth returns from the battlements, his impatient hot-blooded wife leaps into his arms, wrapping her legs around him with abandon. (Cuccioli and Robins previously teamed in "Antony and Cleopatra" at the Guthrie Theater.)

Finally, we have a genuinely sexy and seductive Lady Macbeth who could manipulate any ambitious man. Gregory Derelian is a sturdy Macduff; one of power and vengeance. Michael Stewart Allen's Banquo is soldierly staunch and severe, and Jimonn Cole's Malcolm has princely presence. There is fatherly dignity in the doomed Duncan as acted by Raphael Nash Thompson. Eric Hoffman mines the humor of the tipsy castle porter.

The slaughter of Macduff's "babes" is one of Shakespeare's most terrifying and numbing moments, and Monte has cast beautiful children to make a devastating theatrical statement that makes the blood run cold.

A stylistically vivid duel to the death between Macbeth and Macduff has been staged with cutting-edge fury by fight director Rick Sordelet.

The witches are hardly the cackling "midnight hags" of Macbeth's twisted imagination, but lovely, stealthy phantoms who stalk about in the shadows like Dracula's nocturnal brides...

... Brenda Gray's lighting design is the ideal Halloween setting for ghostly imagery. The atmospheric set design by Michael Schweikardt is enfolded in curtains and bathed in candlelight. The players are wrapped in suitable threads created by Frank Champa that complement the gloomy ambiance of the action. Sound support is accented by atmospheric musical cues.

2004 Reed Business Information

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The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
offers a spooky take on "the Scottish play."

By Stuart Duncan

October 27, 2004

It has become so common these days for a Shakespeare play to be shifted both in time and location that when a production remains true to the original, it is worthy of comment. But an entirely new interpretation of a classic -- Macbeth, for example -- as you have never seen it before, that's cause for celebration.

Bonnie Monte's staging of "the Scottish play" at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison is so courageously stunning in its concept, so dynamically different from any previous, cheers should be heard across the country.

Perhaps what Ms. Monte has done with Macbeth can best described in a poem: "Just in time for Halloween/ The witches are in every scene." Indeed, the "weird sisters" lurk silently in the shadows, gliding wordlessly across thresholds just out of reach, almost out of sight, but always present. They become not only Macbeth's obsession, but ours. It is as if Ms. Monte has dared to challenge the age-old definition of a Shakespearean tragedy -- "the fall of a powerful man from a high position because of some tragic flaw in his own personality" -- and combined it with the even older Greek definition: "Man against the gods (fates)."

And Ms. Monte has indeed dared. Further, she has dared to give the witches faces and sensuality. One of their faces belongs to pretty Caralyn Kozlowski, who bewitched us as Desdemona and Ophelia in past seasons. The sisters may be "weird," but no one said they were ugly. The director even has dared to bring them into Macbeth's bed chamber for the last confrontation, rather than the heath. It is there he hears warnings of "Birnham wood come to Dunsinane" and "no man born of woman." The witches seem as obsessed by him as he is by them.

But this production is far more than merely a new approach. Robert Cuccioli as Macbeth and Laila Robins as Lady Macbeth give towering performances. But make no mistake, this is his play, and Mr. Cuccioli shows how well he has learned his craft by flicking away competitors. Ms. Robins has a magnificent moment in the sleep-walking scene, but it is Mr. Cuccioli who dominates this production -- and with such ease and grace that one can almost forget "something wicked this way comes."

Raphael Nash Thompson is a strong King Duncan and Michael Stewart Allen a sensitive Banquo. Gregory Derelian is a powerful Macduff, while Eric Hoffmann gives a delicious comedic touch as the drunken porter.

Set designer Michael Schweikardt, in keeping with the dark mood of the work, has provided a backdrop with four doors, minimal pieces that slide onto the stage to represent the few interiors. Frank Champa's costuming suggests the period in Scotland without precisely pinning it down. Fight coordinator Rick Sordelet, in his 13th season with the group, gives us a wonderful hand-to-hand battle between Macbeth and Macduff -- a battle often held offstage -- that begins with swords, used dirks and ends up with fists.

So much has been brilliant this season in Madison; a superb Of Mice and Men and now this gem.

News Classifieds Entertainment Business - Princeton and Central New Jersey 2004

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