The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0920 Thursday, 19 October 2006
Date: Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 12:11:19 -0700
Subject: Hamlet Onstage with Annotation
Shakespeare, Interrupted by the Great and the Wordy
By ANDREA STEVENS
NYT, October 17, 2006
Imagine that the footnotes in an annotated version of "Hamlet," crowded
at the bottom of each page and bursting to explain, suddenly came to
life during a performance. What would it be like? Passing strange, to
The New York company Wordplay lists him as the author of its experiment
"The Heart of My Mystery: The Hamlet Project" - an adaptation by Barbara
Bosch and Mark Ringer, both professors of theater - though Shakespeare
The lines of his longest play have not only been cut, but even risk
being upstaged at the Michael Weller Theater by nearly 30 commentators,
from Judith Anderson to Oscar Wilde. The cast, eight men in dark suits
and two women, take turns delivering the quotations briskly, before,
during or after the edited scenes, on a stage bare except for 10 wooden
chairs painted silver and a blackboard on which the annotators' names
are printed in chalk.
The gloom of the schoolroom threatens, yet Shakespeare has the last
word. His brilliant thriller, with its murders, betrayals and
dysfunctional Danish royals, triumphs over the kibitzers. It would be an
exaggeration to say that this is an hour and three-quarters of
Bartlett's quotations, but the remarks seemed intrusive even as you got
used to them.
To Ms. Bosch, who directs, and Mr. Ringer, who plays Polonius and the
Gravedigger, the idea might have sounded like a fresh way for students
to explore the play. The observations can be gossipy (Anderson on
Hamlet: "I think that in his school days he had a little affair with
Horatio"); critical (T. S. Eliot: "Far from being Shakespeare's
masterpiece, 'Hamlet' is most certainly an artistic failure"); and even
presented in music-hall style (light verse by P. G. Wodehouse) - with
the majority about the text.
Under the circumstances it is not easy for the actors to sustain
dramatic tension, but two of the abbreviated scenes worked well,
including the one in which Hamlet (Peter Husovsky) wryly questions his
school friends Rosencrantz (James Cleveland) and Guildenstern (Antonio
Edward Suarez) about their sudden arrival at court. Bracketed with
quotations from Wilde and C. S. Lewis, the exchange was still presented
so naturally that it provoked laughter on a recent night.
What was most revealing, though, was how little the commentary mattered
when set against the power of Shakespeare's devastating final scene.
"The Heart of My Mystery: The Hamlet Project" continues through Oct. 29
at the Michael Weller Theater, 311 West 43rd Street, sixth floor,
Clinton; (212) 352-3101.
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