Even theatergoers familiar with “Macbeth” are liable to be confused by John Doyle’s pared-down 100-minute production, which opened Sunday at Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Company and plays like a highlights reel for students who just need to bone up on the major bits before the final exam and don’t have time to even read the full CliffsNotes.
Not only are major scenes trimmed or cut altogether (like the much-loved porter scene), but most of the nine-person ensemble double, double and even triple up roles — and all join in for chorus-like recitations of the weird sisters, robbing those scenes of much of their otherworldly creepiness.
Worse, Doyle lets scenes play into each other without a pause (or even a lighting cue) so that an actor who seconds ago left the stage as one character reappear as someone else entirely, without even donning a slightly different tartan-blanket accessory in the interim (the subdued modern-dress costumes are by Ann Hould-Ward).
The headlong rush through the text also muddies the motivation of our antihero, Macbeth (Corey Stoll of “House of Cards”), who is at first reluctant to shed blood to fulfill the prophesy that would make him King of Scotland until his wife (Nadia Bowers) emboldens him to screw his courage to the sticking place. With the scenes running together as they do, Stoll’s Macbeth shows less vacillation than puzzling inconsistency. It’s one thing to have a character who doesn’t always know his own mind; it’s another to watch our lead remain a cypher because we can’t puzzle out who he thinks he is from moment to moment.
Doyle’s approach hobbles Stoll, a gifted actor with an unfussy, plainspoken delivery that still retains much of the Bard’s poetry. And Stoll is surrounded by a distinguished, gender- and race-blind cast that includes the inimitable Mary Beth Peil as Duncan (and others) and Barzin Akhavan as Macduff (and others).
There are moments when Doyle’s simple staging is effective, as when Macbeth’s bloody scheming extends to the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children — a scene that forgoes stage blood and seems all the more horrific for its power of suggestion. But there is far too much lost in this ADHD-fueled revival that seems hell-bent on just making sure the hurly-burly’s done.