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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
The Scottish Play and The Danish Play in DC (Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2672  Tuesday, 27 November 2001

From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Nov 2001 11:27:35 -0500
Subject:        The Scottish Play and The Danish Play in DC (Ghost Dad -
French)

First, much thanks for the guidance regarding "adieu," as used by
Hamlet's dad.  This bit of French still seems, to me, a somewhat
pretentious for the walking dead.  I suppose "au revoir" or "ciao" would
have been worse.  Speaking of pretentious, attached please find 2 long
winded descriptions of current DC productions.

Here in DC, we are going through one of those fits of
renaissance-saturation, with a study of Shylock, and a study of Marlowe
both in town.  The Folger has a Macbeth (and so does the high-school
across the street), but the most prominent is probably Hamlet at the
Shakespeare Theater.  It is a nice solid production, delivered mostly in
shades of black.  The stage consists of a series of gray
concrete-looking slabs arranged in semi circle, their edges facing the
audience, half of which have fallen, like a series of dominos, and taken
on a rusty color suggesting the corroded state of things in Denmark.  In
keeping with the tradition, this is the annual production that includes
actual rain from the ceiling and the bitter cold of the first scene is
given as a streaming drizzle to make one sick at heart. During much of
the first act the occasional drop continues to fall from the ceiling and
the hems and knees of various costumes become damp.  Whether intended or
not, it reinforces the rusty, rotten tone of the staging.  Aside from
the odd cup of poisoned wine, the only color on stage is Gertrude, who
is dressed in scarlet and orange gowns, whose incestuous sheets are a
crushed velvet burgundy; who is red right down to the roots on her
head.  Claudius, on the other hand, has no hair, which gives him a sort
of Lex Luther-style of evil.  One other costume note; the ghost either
had an ill-fitting pair of pants or quite the codpiece.  I prefer to
think of it as perhaps substantive demonstration of his status as the
more virile brother, the fairer mountain, or perhaps he simply wore his
beaver up.

Ted van Griethuysen gives Claudius a sympathetic, but wholly unrepentant
attitude.  (For those of us following the "tragedy of Claudius" thread;
what I'm trying to say is, here Claudius is strictly, and I think
intentionally the villain).  David Sabin's Polonius is primarily comic
relief, even going so far as give the audience a comic leer before
launching into "thine own self be true;" like a stand-up comic
announcing an old favorite routine.  It is an approach that Mr. Sabin
makes work.  Ophelia, as played by Nicole Lowrance, seems a trifle young
for the prince, but delivers the goods with her confusion of loyalties
and grief induced madness, that only seemed hampered by some form a
kabuki-style makeup she wore in the second half.

I've always thought that the biggest hurdle in playing Hamlet would be
saying so many things that are already burned into the memory of the
audience.  How do you even open your mouth to say "to be or not to be,"
when everyone already knows the next 35 lines? How do you deliver "the
world's greatest play" and sound like some guy whose dad maybe haunting
him instead of like some one reciting "the world's greatest play."
Wallace Acton is sad, mad and noble with the best of the Hamlet's, but
just a shade too much of that "the world's greatest play" tone for my
taste.  You'll have to weigh the value of my critique; Mel Gibson is
still my favorite Hamlet.

Looking over some of the local reviews, the production gets praised for
being straightforward.  A second hand report credits the director as
having said, she did not want to "do Hamlet in a Detroit car yard;" to
some degree, that is the strength of this production.  All my quibbles
aside, it is a clean, strong presentation of "the big one."

Speaking of quibbles.  I'm sure there is analysis and scholarship I know
not of, but this production gave me a much stronger sense of the number
of innocents Hamlet kills.  With Polonius as primarily comic, it becomes
harder to forgive Hamlet, his mistake at the arras.  And regardless of
Hamlet's argument that they "did make love to this employment;" I have a
heard time blaming R&G for anything besides looking in on an old friend
at the request of his mother and the king.  How is it we end up
forgiving Hamlet, even cheering him on when he is in fact so callous?
But there we are, like Laertes, exchanging forgiveness, and he DOESN'T
EVEN know about the ghost or the murder.  And why would Horatio consider
taking the Roman way out? Anyway, there are some pictures of the
production at

http://shakespearedc.org/hamletasi.html

including Gertrude in her big red bed and of course the prerequisite
shot of the prince and poor Yorick.

 *************************

Okay, it wasn't a Detroit car yard, but the Folger is staging the
Scottish play in the late 1950's; in "Scotland, Louisiana".  We snuck
into a "pay what you can" performance the night before Thanksgiving.  My
description has one small staging spoiler; so in short, I would say, it
is an interesting choice with some nice performances, but it never
worked for me.  The intersection of a Scottish power struggle and 50's
southern politics yielded only a few resonating payoffs, mostly it was
just odd.

Joe Banno has been the regular source for "daring" Shakespeare in DC.
Hamlet played by multiple actors, Ariel as an alien space-chick and
currently, Macbeth as a southern political story.  Duncan seems to be a
recently reelected political boss; a white-haired Huey Long/Willie Stark
type, the rest of the cast are various members of his political machine,
including, for reasons unapparent, Banquo as a priest, making the
presence of Fleance a bit of a mystery.  The stage is done in a
wallpaper of monstrous flowers and dominated by large glass doors that
might easily lead out to the terrace over looking the magnolias.  A fair
amount of Jack Daniels gets poured during the banquets and other comings
and goings, which have a garden party tone.  The Macbeth home includes a
black maid, who lingers in the background, pouring punch and seems
entirely aware of their plotting and crimes.

The lines are delivered with a bayou twang; which is the most prominent
of the concessions made for the southern setting.  For audience members
already struggling with the language, the addition of this extra hurdle
will make it extra tough.  There was one intriguing passage; however,
that seemed to be delivered in both a southern and a Scottish accent at
the same time.  The accents combined with some cutting of the text gave
the first half of the production a choppy feel, where the story line
felt lost.  Instead you get some familiar scenes presented in an
interesting, but odd background.

One of the staging's rewards is the use of the witches, who appear to us
in the first scene as three southern ladies in pill box hats, counting
the ballots (chads and all) that presumably have returned Duncan to
office.  Their return in the second half is as voodoo priestesses.
Hecate appears and is revealed to be the maid from the Macbeth
household, leaving the impression of a lingering evil presence
instigating the events, but running contrary to her protest that she
"was never call'd to bear my part."  The other nice intersections are a
few scenes where the plotting and alliances are given as the old-boy
deal making that keep a well-oiled political machine running.  In
particular, Macbeth's weaseling and justifications to the murderer and
Malcolm's manipulations of Macduff fit quite well in a setting of smoky
back rooms.

There was some argument in our party, if Lucy Newman-Williams was more
Samantha from Sex And the City or Annette Benning in American Beauty.
In either case, her Lady Macbeth was a well coiffed bit of blond
ambition topped off with a powerful piece of spot-washing and a spot of
sleep walking.  Michael Tolydo, as Macbeth, actually looks more the
southern politician than the Scottish warrior.  In the banquet scene,
his lines to Banquo's ghost are delivered to the empty air; no actor
appears to play the role of the visitation.  It is an approach I've
always wanted to see, and in this case, provides ample evidence of
Michael Tolydo as the strong centerpiece of this production.  His
Macbeth is a disheveled sort, whose ambling exterior belies his dark
capabilities.  The strength of his performance is the best (but not
necessarily compelling) argument for seeing the production.

Farvel,
Jimmy
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