The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2222  Wednesday, 15 December 1999.

From:           Carol Barton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 15 Dec 1999 08:01:47 EST
Subject: 10.2206 DC - Hamlet, Shakespeare's R&J
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2206 DC - Hamlet, Shakespeare's R&J

>Just a short note to say there is a very very cool production of Hamlet
>closing at the Folger, in DC on the 12th.  I say cool because director
>Joe Banno has cast four people in the role of Hamlet, three women and a
>man (although the cross gender casting seems to have little meaning
>here).  The result is an incredibly effective method of examining the
>internal conflicts and various facets of the crazy Dane.

I saw the play on Sunday with two young friends, and my reaction to it
was very different.  The things that impressed me positively included an
Ophelia played as something of a tart, gesturing most obscenely to her
brother while admonishing him to take his own advice regarding chastity
abroad, and in her mad scene, accosting Claudius with a brutal physical
as well as verbal sexuality that was full of anger and
contempt-suggesting that she, like Laertes, held him responsible for
Polonius' death.  I also liked the alternation of Polonius' "neither a
borrower" speech between him, Laertes, and Ophelia, the youngsters
phrasing their lines with the eye-rolling "god!  we've heard this all
before, Dad!" facial expressions that teens being lectured parentally
are wont to adopt (it was funny enough to have the audience laughing
aloud), and the body of H.Pere being the (ignored) centerpiece of a
table around which the other characters are gathered in the early
scenes.  Beginning with the end seemed gratuitous, and the four-voice
Hamlet only worked sometimes (excellently well, during Hamlet's
conversation with Horatio immediately after seeing the Ghost, with the
other three interjecting "if ever thou didst thy dear father love" and
"murder most foul and unnatural," etc.-because it clearly demonstrated
the distraction he felt); at other times, it seemed contrived in a
no-value-added sort of way.  I did not like Polonius being shot instead
of stabbed, nor did I find Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being a couple
of leather-attired thugs (one a trampy female) particularly appealing .
. . just different.  Her gender notwithstanding, I didn't think much of
Ms. Twyford's acting ability, either: she botched the delivery of a
number of Hamlet's lines (acCENT on the wrong sylLABLE, wrong tone,
etc.) and seemed to whine rather than speak at important points in the
play; I think the more mannish of the other females -- Cam Magee, an
older woman, and a much better actress-would have made a better choice
for the lead-and I didn't see any particular advantage (other than the
novelty) to having a woman or women play the role.  I liked the idea of
Ophelia in a wedding gown and veil (can wedding gowns be suggestive?
this one had a lowcut corset bodice, and came about as close as one
could to that effect), and I especially liked the almost floating image
of her behind the mirrored door as Gertrude was delivering the account
of her last moments. Gertrude as a business-attired queen consort added
a malevolent self-interest to the character that she doesn't normally
exude, in contrast to her doting caressing of her son, but that worked,
too-as Claudius openly fondling her at various points underscored their
mutual lust.  One congratulated Shakespeare for having cut the second
"to be or not to be" soliloquy which was invasive, distracting, and very
poorly written-like the bad adolescent rough draft of a work that later
becomes the author's masterpiece.

It was an interesting production, sort of an Ellis Rabb minimalist
approach gone a little wild . . . but not by a long shot the best I've
ever seen, but not the worst, either.

Carol Barton

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