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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: December ::
DC - Hamlet, Shakespeare's R&J
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2206  Tuesday, 14 December 1999.

From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Dec 1999 13:34:32 -0500
Subject:        DC - Hamlet, Shakespeare's R&J

Just a short note to say there is a very very cool production of Hamlet
closing at the Folger, in DC on the 12th.  I say cool because director
Joe Banno has cast four people in the role of Hamlet, three women and a
man (although the cross gender casting seems to have little meaning
here).  The result is an incredibly effective method of examining the
internal conflicts and various facets of the crazy Dane.  It is
augmented by a stage set with mirrors that are constantly reflecting the
players and occasionally backlit to allow one cast member to appear as
the reflection of another; a mesmerizing funhouse effect.  The "primary"
Hamlet is played by Holly Twyford, whose petite size and small pipe
gives the character a tortured adolescent aspect.  The other three
Hamlets typically express his calm philosophical side, his wild mad side
and a third kind of middle of the road aspect that I had some difficulty
figuring out.  The program notes describe these aspects as Eye, Sword
and Tongue respectively, and apparently take their cue from Ophelia's
line, " O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!  The courtier's,
soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword."

During soliloquies, like "To be or not to be ...", these "other"
Hamlet's take the various sides of the argument.  On other occasions,
they are the voices in his head urging him on, often repeating bits of
previous dialog to whet Hamlet's purpose.  Gertrude's bedroom scene
reaches the height of stichomythia-ness as each of the Hamlets delivers
a line in turn, while changing places through a revolving mirror door.

It was my first impression that Banno and Dramaturg, Cam Magee (who is
also the philosophical Hamlet) had been doing a lot altering of the
text.  They have; but the program notes also indicate that they freely
incorporated the "notorious First Quarto text."  The most satisfying
result of this choice is a second performance of "to be or not to be."
Late in the play Hamlet returns to Ophelia's grave and repeats his
soliloquy, this time using the Q1 version.

 To be or not to be, I there's the point,
 To die, to sleep, is that all? I all:
 No, to sleep, to dream, I mary there it goes,
 For in that dream of death, when wee awake,
 And borne before an everlasting judge
 From whence no passenger ever returned
 The undiscovered country, at whose sight
 The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.

The speech is a mixed up ole' mess, but in a production that emphasized
the fractured nature of the lead character, the effect is one of fusing
disparate elements, before rushing headlong into the finale.  Hamlet
senior is a surprisingly tangible ghost, tromping in and out regularly,
including a very early flash-back scene where he reads young Hamlet a
bedtime story, the story of Priam and Dido, discussed by Hamlet and the
player later.  This production has only one player, who recruits
volunteers from his audience to perform.  Naturally, Gertrude and
Claudius are called upon to help with the dumb show.  This performance
of "The Mousetrap" is also highlighted by having Rosencrantz's cell
phone go off during the players speech.  He is, of coursed shunned by
both real and performed audience alike.

The production also finds unrealized humor in the Polonius family, with
Dad being more of a warm, but overbearing father, than a doddering
fool.  He has a military sense of authority, nevertheless, Laertes and
Ophelia tease him and each other.  But nothing's quite as funny as Brad
Waller, who is less of a gravedigger than a mortician.  His scene is
entirely ghoulish, but funny as he prepares Ophelia's body; delivering
his discussion of self destruction and gravemaking, while smoking a
cigarette, clipping her toenails, sewing closed her lips, and using
Yorick's skull as an ashtray.

As a final note, just before the lights go out, there is also the hint
that Horatio may still take the Roman way out.

Okay, it's not such a short note (brevity - soul of wit, whatever); but,
if you're in DC and have finished your Christmas shopping (Boxing day,
whatever) it is well worth seeing.  Also of interest to those of you
discussing Shakespeare's R&J, the adaptation set in an all boy's
boarding school; Joe Calarco will be bringing this adaptation to the
Folger in February.  Both plays are described at:
http://www.folger.edu/public/theater/menu.htm

Two questions: Does anyone know of a copy of The First Quarto on the
web?  And can anyone illuminate Hamlet's request for the Pyrrhus
speech?  I know it relates to fathers and sons.

Jimmy

PS  During the intermission, I had occasion to linger in the Folger
library gift shop, where I could lovingly pet the Norton Facsimile and
wonder greatly at the price.  My thanks to those of you who responded
with specific comments regarding the Yale facsimile.  I have washed off
gross acquaintance.  It now sits on the bottom shelves with Steven King
and Mickey Spillane.  However, early in the facsimile discussion, I
thought I heard scorn for the production of facsimiles at all.  Was that
true?
 

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