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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
NYTimes.com Article: A Sandbox for Hamlet,
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2100  Thursday, 30 October 2003

From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Oct 2003 08:18:20 -0500
Subject:        NYTimes.com Article: A Sandbox for Hamlet, Without the
Politics

A Sandbox for Hamlet, Without the Politics
October 28, 2003
By BRUCE WEBER

You don't think of "Hamlet" as a play for kids, but in the circuslike
production by the Minneapolis troupe Theatre de la Jeune Lune it's fun
for children of all ages. The show, which opened over the weekend and is
encamped at the cozy New Victory Theater through Sunday, doesn't feature
trapeze artists or wild animals. But trimmed to about two-and-a-quarter
hours and paced at a Barnum & Bailey gallop - the scenes are melted into
one another brilliantly - it is designed to enchant and entertain more
than to overpower.

The company, 25 years old, derives its aesthetic from the French mime
Jacques Lecoq, and the show, directed by Paddy Hayter, is loaded with
theatrical invention, some of it gimmicky, some of it gorgeous, some of
it interpretative, most of it effective. One obvious innovation is the
musical accompaniment; a fine, atmospheric score by Eric Jensen is
played live by Mr. Jensen on keyboards and Elizabeth Karges on cello.

The stage is covered in sand, with critically placed puddles of water,
and the backdrop is sand-colored as well.  When Claudius (played in
French-accented English by Vincent Gracieux) and Gertrude (Barbra
Berlovitz) appear, swathed in crimson, the passion that inflames them
and enrages Hamlet (Steven Epp) is represented in bold relief. The
appearance of the ghost (also Mr. Gracieux, whose robes and crown make
him look a little like the Statue of Liberty) is marvelously staged, in
light and fog that creates the atmosphere of a horror film and a swift
choreographic moment that gives the illusion that the body is truly
ghostly, without substance.

Accompanying the speaking cast are several robed, masked and silent
players - I could never figure out exactly how many there were - who
function as a kind of chorus; they're handsome and eerie, an atmospheric
touch that gives the production a tongue-in-cheek suspense. They are
also utilitarian, employed as human props. Linking arms, they provide
the curtain behind which Polonius retreats - and where he will meet his
death - when Hamlet enters his mother's bedchamber. And they also serve
as the players, enacting, in an especially showy and colorful scene, the
play that is the thing wherein Hamlet catches the conscience of the
king.

One of the accomplishments of this "Hamlet" is in demonstrating that the
play can support theatricality and good fun. But it's a serious and
particular treatment of the play as well. The text has been shorn of its
political context - no Fortinbras, no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - and
concentrates on family dynamics; it's "Hamlet" as psychodrama. The lusty
relationship of Claudius and Gertrude is made evident in the staging,
and so is Hamlet's revulsion, which he takes out on Ophelia (Sarah
Agnew). Mr.  Epp is never subtle in his psychic torments; in the
presence of his mother or Ophelia, he always seems, literally, to have
his knickers in a twist.

Another thing that becomes clear is the relationship of Polonius
(Luverne Seifert) to Ophelia and Laertes (Stephen Cartmell, who has a
British accent, anomalous in the cast).  The father not only favors his
son, he is threatening to his daughter. When he delivers his famous
advice, both children chime in on the line "neither a borrower nor a
lender be," so it's clear how often they've heard it. It's funny, but it
also makes clear what a pompous tyrant he is.

The actors are all in command of Shakespearean pentameter, but the
performance idiom is contemporary and hyperbolic.  This is especially
notable in the case of Mr. Epp, who looks a bit like a short Sam
Waterston and whose Hamlet is every bit the ringmaster for the greatest
show on earth. He is obviously playing to the younger members of the
audience, pounding his forehead with his fist to illustrate his inner
torment, teasing Polonius in sophomoric fashion and in general behaving
like a college student on spring break, which, come to think of it, is
pretty much what Hamlet is. He is particularly well supported by Ms.
Agnew, a lithe redhead whose wonderfully sympathetic Ophelia makes
crystal clear how the men in her life torment her and how her madness
mirrors Hamlet's. She's terrific.

The New Victory recommends the production for ages 12 and up, and that
seems about right, though there were plenty of children younger than
that at the show I saw, and they paid attention. Parents should be
aware, however, that the production treats the play's sexual themes
frankly.

HAMLET

By William Shakespeare; directed Paddy Hayter; sets and mask designer,
Fredericka Hayter; costumes by Sonya Berlovitz; lighting by Marcus
Dilliard; original music by Eric Jensen. The Theatre de la Jeune Lune
production presented by the New 42nd Street. At the New Victory Theater,
209 West 42nd Street, Manhattan.

WITH: Vincent Gracieux (Claudius and Ghost), Barbra Berlovitz
(Gertrude), Steven Epp (Hamlet), Luverne Seifert (Polonius), Stephen
Cartmell (Laertes), Sarah Agnew (Ophelia) and Jason Lambert (Horatio).

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/28/arts/theater/28HAML.html?ex=1068431974&ei=1&en=ea0a7ae8442f5b76

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