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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: March ::
Performing Garage Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0223  Friday, 30 March 2007

From: 		Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 28 Mar 2007 10:12:57 EDT
Subject: 	Performing Garage Hamlet

Saw the Wooster Group/Performing Garage's HAMLET at the Brooklyn St 
Anne's Warehouse a few days ago.

For those who do not know, the Wooster Group is one of the best known -- 
and often most interesting-cutting edge theater in NYC. Their brief 
frequently is deconstructing modern and classic plays using a congerie 
of defamiliarizing strategies-cunning deployment of video is 
characteristic.

Their HAMLET is essentially an interpretation/revision of the Burton 
'rehearsal' Hamlet performed both on stage, and by telecast to movie 
theaters across America, in 1963, I believe. I saw the original, 
featuring in addition to Burton, Hume Cronyn as Polonius, Alfred Drake 
as Claudius, et cetera. Burton, as I recall, more or less walked through 
the role with one eye firmly fixed on his bank balance. All sorts of 
shtick, trilling the 'trippingly' in the famous Speak the Speech speech, 
et cetera.

The Wooster production featured the play-their version of it-played out 
against the backdrop of a showing of the nearly complete original on 
widescreen. The video had been processed to remove or dampen out the 
images of various characters. The onstage actors' gestures eerily 
matched the gestures on screen, and a clearly deliberate 'herky jerk' 
movement prevailed, 'echoing' the shaky quality of the onscreen video. A 
major change was restoring the verse  reading to a 'steadier', 'iambic 
pentametered' tempo, such that the video was curiously out of synch-sort 
of hard to explain-but effect was most obvious  in justifiably-at least 
in my opinion-undermining Burton's ham on rye  histrionics.

All in all, I found the production curiously unsatisfying although 
intermittently interesting. The Wooster Hamlet, whose name I do not 
remember, was quite fine, and the redoubtable Kate Valk did double 
service both as Gertrude and Ophelia. There were relatively view other 
'defamiliarizing' techniques-odd whistles and whispers accompanying the 
action, the HAMLET indicating that certain  portions should be sped up, 
cut, repeated, et cetera.

I found myself afterwards thinking that it would have been a good thing 
to see the Wooster Group do a Hamlet on its own, with whatever special 
inflection native to their work. Reminded me about wishing I could see 
the entire Richard III in Pacino's overview, instead of the bits and 
pieces.

I would be extremely interested in other impressions from more learned 
Shakespeareans than myself. Unfortunately, the entire run of the play is 
completely sold out, although there are often a few seats available at 
the last moment at the box office before the performance.

Harvey Roy Greenberg MD

[Editor's Note: I did see the original Burton _Hamlet_ theatre release. 
The play itself opened on April 9, 1964, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. 
The play was recorded before a live audience (June 30/July 1, 1964) with 
fifteen to seventeen camera angles. The resulting film was soon after 
shown in movie theatres for a limited release - my memory was that it 
was shown for only two days but I read that it was shown for a week. 
After that, Burton reported ordered that all prints be destroyed. He was 
very nearly successful, but after his death his widow found a print in a 
garage (I thought that it was in Switzerland but may be wrong). I 
believe then that the Folger Library got possession of the print or tape 
(I am unsure here). The 191 minute, black and white production is now 
available on DVD.]

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