The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1200.  Tuesday, 25 November 1997.

From:           Kay L. Campbell <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Mondayy, 24 Nov 1997 11:59:44 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Nashville _Ham_

The Mockingbird Public Theatre of Nashville, just closed a two-weekend
run of _Hamlet_ that I wish ya'll could have seen.

Mounted in the basement theatre-in-the-round auditorium of Nashville's
Performing Arts Center, the production put Hamlet onto a stark black set
of angles, steps, and corners, a dangerous place, with some vague white
patterns dusted onto the tipped and angled levels (like the patterns of
a sidewalk, sort of, but interrupted).  Projecting in the center of the
stage was the tipped-back corner that eventually was draped for
Gertrude's bed (from which the Ghost arose in all his metallic glory),
and the same spot became Ophelia's grave.  Above that corner suspended
about 25' above the stage was a frame from which hung strips of white
gauze, which could be moved by stage hands below stage to suggest wind,
or draped back to reveal the loft that was Ophelia's room.  Time
references were deliberately blurred: Gertrude (played with a troubled
brittleness by rail-thin Lisa Norman) wore slick and sexy first-lady
sorts of suits; Claudius and Polonius both wore vaguely Nehru-ish suits
(Mikael Byrd and Samuel T. Whited III), an interesting costuming
parallel that emphasized Claudius's failure to completely pull off the
king bit; while Hamlet (David Alford-also co-director) and Ophelia (Erin
Whited-I don't know if she is Polonius's daughter in real life, but the
apparent age difference and resemblance between them would have made
that possible) both wore 1990s 20-something clothes:  Hamlet in
all-black, his shirt made of black gauze, and combat boots, Ophelia in
gauzy sleeveless shifts.  The ghost was splendid in silver lame'
space-suit sort of thing with cape and white-plumed helmet.

From black, the play opened in complete silence with a pin light on
Horatio (Byron Brooks, a black man who towered head-and-shoulders above
the pale white Hamlet) who began the speech with his "What is it you
would see?" speech (with some editing) from 5.2. Back to black, then the
air was split with grinding music and slashes of laser lights.
Unfortunately (?), I don't know contemporary music very well, but my 8th
grader tells me it included music of Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam,
Nine-inch Nails and other stuff.

This ended (with the gauze compartment gradually coming light and silent
figures standing stiffly behind the gauze, their shadows thrown up onto
the hangings) with the quiet patter of the sycophants applauding
Claudius's 1.2 speech, Hamlet sitting off by himself close to us on a
projection of the stage (1.1 was cut).

The play continued, with some nice attention to detail (though a rather
silly bit, I thought, during the Ghost-and-Hamlet scene where the ghost
put his hand on Hamlet's head with sizzling sounds coming over the PA
with his Darth-Vaderish voice-over).

But I moved from deep interest to tears as Act III opened, and after the
requisitely timorous Ophelia had been positioned and instructed by the
Claudius and Polonius (Gertrude cut from this part), Hamlet strolled on,
caught a glimpse of her, and ran to her, pulling her around the corner
where they began kissing passionately.  It was the only moment in the
play when Ophelia seemed to stand up straight and unencumbered.  His "To
be" speech, then, was given to her, as he held her in his arms, and the
suicide ponderings took on Romeo-and-Juliet-ish possibilities of a sort
of suicide pact.  I found it incredibly moving, this human moment
between two 20-somethings caught between the tectonic plates of state
craft and family problems.  He moved away from her, still holding her
hand, at "Thus conscience does make cowards" section.

At the end of the soliloquy, a noise made them separate, Ophelia ran
back to her place, began her scripted remarks.  Hamlet looked at her,
moved to look behind the gauze.  She caught his hand to prevent him, and
in a horrible moment we saw Hamlet register that Ophelia was cooperating
with her father, even unwillingly.  It was the first time I've ever had
more sympathy for Hamlet at that moment than for Ophelia.

This scene ends (though Polonius is a little more solicitous to Oph.
than usual) with Ophelia left crumpled on a stage projection (same angle
on which Ham was sitting in the opening scene).  This abandonment of
Ophelia was mirrored when the stage quickly emptied after her funeral,
and we were left staring at the grave/bed-hole into which her wrapped
body had been handed down, in silence.  As the lights faded after the
funeral, we heard snatches of Oph's voice singing over the PA.

When the lights came back up after the grave scene, it was to reveal Ham
clutching Oph's robe in grief in her room again.  He composes himself as
Horatio enters, and then moves into a manic jocularity with Osric
(cheerfully turned out by Michael Ables), turning his back on Osric and
beginning to fiddle with things on Ophelia's dressing table.  We see him
playing with makeup, so that by the time he turns around to say, "To
this effect sir," we see with a shock that his face is white, with his
eyes shining out of dark circles.  This lends a new poignancy to
Horatio's recognition that "you will lose, my lord."  (other messenger
cut).  Hamlet already wears a death mask.

I'm sorry that I couldn't see it more than once, and I'm pleased that my
boys (11 and 13) saw this version as their first live _Ham_ production.
It was intelligent and careful as well as spectacular.  This production
cut quite a bit-all of Fortinbras, for instance-to get the
beginning-to-end length, with one intermission, to just under 3 hours.
Btu the cuts were done in a way that lent speed to the dissolution of
the kingdom and focus on Hamlet. It was an incredibly demanding
performance for Hamlet;  upon reflection, I realized that he was hardly
ever off the stage. One other nice touch:  when Ham almost knifes
Claudius in 3.3, it is with Claud's own stiletto dagger he'd laid beside
his jacket before he prays.  After (via PA'd voice-over), Ham decides
not to kill him then, he still takes the dagger, which he uses in the
next scene to kill Polonius through the gauze curtains viciously (lots
of stabs).  This Ham obviously was NOT indecisive (tell Sir Laurence),
just calculating.

Directed by Rene Copeland and David Alford.

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