Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 94.  Friday, 19 February 1993.
From:           Tony Naturale <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 17 Feb 1993 08:52:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Review: NTD *Hamlet* Adaptation
To Be or Not To Be Ophelia  (by Tony Naturale)
   In its 26th season, National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) presented
a unique adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, allowing a fuller
expression of actions and  passions in ASL.  The play was held in
the Panara Theatre at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf
(Rochester, NY).
   In the original Shakespeare's version of Hamlet, Ophelia had
been viewed as an overly sensitive, poetically oriented tragic
figure; cursed by crazed Hamlet, her lover, Ophelia sought to make
things right when things only became worse.  Grieving over the
death of her father, Ophelia lost her mind; in her "lunatic" state,
Ophelia eventually drowned in a river.  Later, Hamlet became
despondent after receiving the news of her death.  As the play
turned darker, Hamlet came face to face with a crisis in his life,
his existential crisis;  "To be or not to be, that is the
question," Hamlet wondered. Hamlet (and Shakespeare) left many of
us wondering about his true answer.  Hamlet remained as one of the
most challenging, puzzling, and yet rewarding plays.
   In this adaptation of Hamlet, the playwright Jeff Wanshel worked
closely with NTD to develop further the role of Ophelia. Ostensibly
to present a woman's point of view in this "rotten kingdom" of
Denmark, the play became an experiment with mixed results.  To keep
the action rolling,  plot was  changed,  scenes borrowed from other
Shakespeare's plays were included, and conflicts between Ophelia
and Hamlet were highlightened further.
   Wanshel also rearranged the series of death scenes, ending with
Ophelia's.  In this way, it was Ophelia who witnessed all the
traumatic deaths of Polonius, the Queen, the King, Laertes and
finally, Hamlet.  In her own death scene, we all grieved deeply
with her at all the tragic events; yet we were also introduced to
the  poetic world of Ophelia, in which flowers talked with and
consoled her, the river cradled her to nurturing comfort, and
Nature welcomed Ophelia in a womblike embrace. (Her death scene was
definitely eco-feminist, in this reviewer's opinion.)
   In the title role of Ophelia, Camille Jeter was at once delicate
and yet brutally frank; she appeared more cerebral, more reserved,
and more in control.   Unlike Hamlet who had already "gone beserk",
Ophelia went through a major change.  Earlier, Ophelia had
"juggled" the dual but conflicting roles: a submissive daughter for
her father while becoming a passionate lover for Hamlet.  This
constant juggling, however, came  crashing down when Hamlet killed
Polonius, her father.  Here, Jeter delivered a heart-wrenching
judgement against the male sex;  Jeter's anger flared through in
her outrage against men who have dominated and ruined her life; in
her, the tension crackled and flashed between her love for Hamlet
and the duty for her father.  Here,  Jeter presented a feminist
view of her existence in this patriarchical society ruled by
deceits and naked "will to power";  Jeter shared with us her
anguish, her struggle to find a meaning in life, in which pain
dominated pleasure, insanity overruled reason, and lies were easier
to face than truth.
   At the funeral procession to the graveyard for Polonius, Ophelia
expressed, in a painfully clear way, the absurdity of her
existence.  In this funereal context, Jeter asked for a reason to
live. "To be or not to be? that is the question."  In her hands,
Camille Jeter performed one of the most compelling interpretations
of this speech.
   The role of Hamlet, while stripped of the speech, was still
powerful.  Played by a veteran actor, Troy Kotsur,  Hamlet was very
passionate and determined to get what he wanted.  As a crazed
Hamlet, Kotsur displayed a wide range of emotions through his
animate facial expressions, body postures, physical movements and
of course, his visceral delivery of sign language.  This Hamlet was
very much alive, wrestling with dark emotions and dangerous ideas.
As the ideas grew more unreconcilable,  Hamlet struggled to
confront his mother, the Queen.  Hamlet could not for long remain
silent with the foreboding knowledge of the Queen's involvement in
the conspiracy to kill his father, the King of Denmark.
   The rest of the cast did well in maintaining the Shakespearean
pageantry in the background. The Player-King (Joseph Sarpy)
demonstrated his skills as a poet-creator.  He helped express the
morbid thoughts of Hamlet in a unique theatrical technique of
"thought-balooning"; while Hamlet sat, brooding in soliptic manner,
the Player-King revealed the thoughts through signs.  There was an
aiery movements of thoughts, floating above Hamlet. This was a
powerfully creative use of supporting cast, to engage in the magic
recreation of thoughts through ASL.
   Polonius, acted by Robert DeMayo, was a perfect example of a
money-obsessed, sexually repressed, and overprotective father of
his "virgin" daughter.  Instead of seeing Ophelia as a human being,
Polonius viewed her as valuable commodity.  And with a prospect of
her marriage to Hamlet becoming stronger,  Ophelia would give
Polonius a profitable access to the royal court of Denmark.
   All in all, this show was a fine performance of Ophelia.  Jeter
should be proud of having made "herstory" in this unique adaptation
of Hamlet. The National Theatre of the Deaf should continue to
explore adapting more plays by Shakespeare in order to explore
the beauty of Signs as Visual-Gestural Thoughts of the Renaissance
and the Restoration Cultures.

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