February 12, 2004

Full of Sound and Fury

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William Shakespeare, welcome to the Ritalin generation. For those of you who find four-hour renditions of Hamlet to be offensive, or those who just can’t get enough of iambic pentameter, something interesting this way comes. That Play, a one-man rendition of Macbeth, is set to open at the Kitchen Theatre starting today. Taking its name from a legendary curse associated with the name “Macbeth” (quite often, the play is called The Scottish Play), That Play clocks in at just under 80 minutes, and features the pinball antics of actor and co-writer Tom Gualtieri. A veteran of many Off-Broadway productions, Gualtieri joins with director and award winning playwright Heather Hill to morph Shakespeare’s darkest work into a rapid fire tour-de-force. Gualtieri, familiar with playing both male and female roles, plays all of the major roles, including his personal favorite, the always amiable Lady Macbeth. While many passages had to be cut, Gualtieri essentially gives the audience what they need to know, evoking such memorable characters and scenes as the witches, the frantic sword fights between Macduff and Macbeth, and Birnam Wood marching on Dunsinane Hill. To fill gaps, Gualtieri gives a comedic narration of what the audience missed between scenes of action. Accompanying Gaultieri’s performance is a dark and macabre original soundtrack composed by Erin Hill. daze approached the mad thespian behind this radical interpretation:

daze: How did this project come about? What is its history?

Tom Gualtieri: I developed the idea about five years ago. Heather came aboard a year later. Our first actual performance was with Artistic New Directions, a group that fosters burgeoning talent. Subsequently, in 2000, we went to Manhattan Theatre Source, an exciting Off-Off-Broadway space and home of the Fringe Festival.

daze: Why did you choose Macbeth for this sort of performance?

Gualtieri: Well, it’s my favorite Shakespeare. I know that’s sort of like saying it’s my favorite flavor, but what draws me to it is that it’s the darkest of his tragedies. The hero is an anti-hero, and the tragedy is that he takes the wrong road. It’s of his own doing, and yet it also implicates the world. Macbeth is guilty, but God must forgive the entire planet as well.

People see how deeply evil can ruin someone, and that produces a real feeling of dread. It’s striking from all sides.

Having said that, I am a comedian, which is perhaps why I was drawn to the challenge of such a sinister play. Comedians cry the hardest, you know.

daze: How does this lend itself to a one-man show?

Gualtieri: Everybody has all of this inside them. So That Play is a literal interpretation of that with one person playing all of it, and it’s a way of emphasizing this potential for deep wrong-doing. Characters give up their remorse. The fact that there are people who are consciously evil is perhaps the most frightening idea a play can communicate.

daze: I’m sure it was sort of overwhelming to invent so many characters simultaneously. Did you actively imbue all the characters with the same degree of identity, or are some intentionally caricatures?

Gualtieri: I really try to create fully realized characters. There are two characters who just have one or two lines. For me, it’s still a person who needs to convey some specific identity. [Citing Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love as an example], I believe it’s highly possible to do these sort of small parts on a consistent basis.

Compressing a stage performance traditionally three hours in length to little more than an hour may, in the Bard’s eyes, cast Gualtieri as “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more