The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0534 Wednesday, 28 October 2009
From: Cheryl Newton <
Date: Tuesday, 20 Oct 2009 16:02:25 -0400
Subject: Hamlet on Broadway
My friend Rachel Kovaciny & I are co-Hamlet fans & collectors of any
productions, live or otherwise. She doesn't subscribe to this list, but
she gets forwarding of any Hamlet discussions. She agreed to offer her
recent email to me to Hardy, if he would be interested in sharing her
review. ~smile~ The insight here is passionate fan not scholarly
critic. There are photos on the Broadway site of the staging of the snow
scene & the Queen's chamber. (If you're in OH & want to carpool to NYC,
let me know, only half in jest!)
It was magnificent.
The set was very austere, with tall stone walls on both sides, L shaped,
with archways in them for entrances & exits, eavesdropping, etc. The
rest of the back wall could be big wooden gatelike doors (which had
normal-sized doors in them, or could be shoved wholly aside, which
Hamlet did rather triumphantly a couple times), or it could be open to
the "outside" with a brick wall a bit behind, or it could just be stone
like the other two pieces and be an interior wall. There were very few
props, just a chair or bench now and then, and swords/daggers when
needed, etc. In that, it reminded me a lot of the Richard Burton version
on Broadway that I have on dvd. Quite minimalistic.
The costumes were modern, all blacks and greys, except during "The
Murder of Gonzago" when the Players wore all white, which was very
striking. Claudius and Polonius and the courtiers wore expensive suits
and ties, and Gertrude was usually in a spiffy pantsuit or full-length
dress. Ophelia had very plain, classic dresses, and wore men's pajamas
for her mad scenes. Laertes was in trousers and a shirt and sport coat
or sweater vest, very ivy league grad student. Horatio was the rebel,
always in perfectly-fitted jeans, biker boots, and a black leather
jacket, with long black hair slicked back into a queue. You would have
LOVED him. (He was played by Matt Ryan, and here's a link to a pic and
little bio of him: http://www.theatermania.com/cast/Matt-Ryan.html
More about Horatio later.) Hamlet wore all shades of grey, very
layered, with a knee-length grey overcoat for his outdoor scenes, darker
grey slacks, a soft grey button-down shirt he wore both closed and open,
sometimes a grey cardigan, and underneath everything, a tight-ish,
As for performances, I didn't hate Oscric (and I often do), I felt
almost sorry for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Fortinbras was quite
soldierly and commanding. Gertrude was sympathetic, and I loved how she
took Hamlet's warning in her bedchamber to heart and gave Claudius a
decidedly cold shoulder after that. She had a bit of a Glenn Close/Meryl
Streep look, so a strong woman, not a silly one. Polonius was quite
good, and got most of the laughs, some in not-so-obvious spots, usually
because his gestures were sometimes so absolutely perfect, yet
unexpected. He was officious, but not unbearable. Ophelia was okay,
though her voice was a bit high and thin for my taste, and she was
portrayed as timid and pliable. Claudius was excellent, and his closet
soliloquy was heartfelt and compelling.
Laertes was acceptable. They went the rash, young, headstrong route,
which is not my favorite interpretation. He was sweet to Ophelia, but
lacked that brotherly protectiveness I always look for. But I'm hugely
picky about my Laertes, and only Liev Schreiber has ever played him to
my complete satisfaction (so far), so I wasn't too disappointed.
Horatio. Ahhh, Horatio. Not only was he HOT, he was GOOD. According to
the program, this guy is the understudy for Hamlet, and I would dig
seeing him in the role -- I think he'd bring a nifty edginess to it. But
anyway, Horatio was the best friend Hamlet totally needs -- strong,
resilient, quiet, and completely devoted. He seemed to exude an aura of
"I'm here, don't worry," and also a sense of protectiveness. Although he
spent much time in the sidelines, arms folded, ever watchful, he always
seemed ready to leap to Hamlet's aid if the need arose, like he was part
best friend and part bodyguard. And his "Now cracks a noble heart"
brought me to tears, it was so heartwrenching. He had a great voice too,
deep and just a little husky. Reminded me a lot of a young Cary Elwes,
with his movements and body language, anyway. He'd make a wonderful
Dread Pirate Roberts.
And then, there was Hamlet. I'm not a big Jude Law fan. I like him okay,
but I don't seek out his movies. But he CAN act. No question. His Hamlet
was confused, melancholy, jumpy, and so very tired of this whole mess.
He did several scenes barefoot, after putting on his antic disposition,
which was quite sexy, though he's too slumpy and skinny for me to really
have a thing for him. But he made me cry twice, with his "Rogue and
peasant slave" soliloquy (which he got claps and cheers for, and rightly
so, it was probably his best moment) and his "If it be now" speech,
which is not a place I usually choke up. He was just soooo tired of it
all and ready to die if need be, so at peace with his fate after railing
against it for so long... I loved it. Excellent portrayal overall.
Some of the staging was not to my taste -- they blocked everyone very
far apart most of the time, so characters would be ten or more feet
apart during a conversation. It felt a bit stagey and forced, not
particularly natural. On the other hand, the overall distance between
most characters made Hamlet's closeness to certain ones more noticeable.
He spent a lot of his scenes very close to one character or another --
particularly Horatio and Gertrude, but sometimes Ophelia or R&G or the
Players -- with a hand on someone's shoulder or what have you. So in
that way, it did sorta work to emphasize his relationships.
I really liked the way they staged the first part of the bedchamber
scene between Hamlet and Gertrude. A big, white, sheer curtain dropped
down parallel to the backdrop, and Polonius hid behind it on the
audience's side, while Hamlet and Gertrude were behind it, where they
were still visible, but not perfectly. It re-enforced the fact that we,
the audience, are all eaves-dropping on the play, which rocked. When
Hamlet stabbed Polonius, then the curtain fell down over him and we
could see the whole stage again.
And I adored all of the soliloquies -- Hamlet broke the 4th wall every
time and addressed us as if confiding his innermost self to a diary or
bosom friend. It was especially effective on the "Who calls me coward?"
section of the "Rogue and peasant slave" speech -- he sort of challenged
us to own up that we'd called him that. The overall effect, for me, was
to make me want to run down to the stage, throw my arms around him, and
promise that everything would be all right. It was intensely personal
And the end was perfect. Hamlet died in Horatio's arms, with Horatio
sitting on the floor, one knee up to support Hamlet a little, who died
with his back to Horatio's chest, Horatio's arms around him. After "Now
cracks a noble heart," Horatio kissed him on the forehead, very ala the
death of Boromir in LOTR. And then Horatio stayed there, cradling him,
through the rest of the scene. He looked very much the steadfast,
protective, broken-hearted friend to the end. He would periodically
smooth Hamlet's hair, or lay his cheek on Hamlet's forehead, and
remained very focused on him, only paying Fortinbras the barest
attention. Perfect. I was bawling.
I would say Jude Law combined Mel Gibson's almost reckless energy and
drive with Richard Burton's weary snarl, if I had to compare him to
performances I've seen on dvd. The cast on a whole was excellent, and
I'm so glad this was my first live Hamlet. Bravo.
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