The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0239  Thursday, 29 January 2004

From:           Abigail Quart <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 2004 14:32:36 -0500
Subject:        Horrid Hamlet

I've taken a few days to think about this, lest I go too far in my first
excoriating impulse to slash and burn.

Last Thursday night I attended an alumni event at Columbia University, a
School of the Arts production of Hamlet performed at the appropriately
gothic Theatre of the Riverside Church (because Columbia can't be
bothered to build the theatre program a theatre, but I'm not bitter). I
admit to being 20 minutes too late to see the setup, so I was perhaps
more confused than I need have been.

As I took my seat, Hamlet in a black trenchcoat was downstage right with
his trenchcoated companions, at least I thought they were companions,
talking to his father's Ghost which seemed to be somewhere in the
audience. Meanwhile, stage left, a bunch of people were doing ....I have
no idea what they were doing. Odd gestures. But it turns out they were
all the Ghost. All of them.

That was when I looked at my program and discovered there were not only
multiple ghosts, but seven Hamlets (four of them female), nine Ophelias
(three of them male), two Gertrudes, two Laertes (one female), but only
one Polonius, one Horatio, one Claudius, and one Fortinbras.
Fortinbras, however, had an associate Shakespeare never wrote called
Fortinbras' Aid (sic) in the program. It turned out the "Aid" was
necessary as a translator because Fortinbras spoke exclusively in Old
Norse (in verse, too, I later discovered).

The Hamlet of the moment took the news of his father's murder badly,
falling on the floor in a flailing, kicking, pounding tantrum I have
previously seen only in a six-year-old girl and a twenty-four-year-old
roommate. It certainly left him no reason whatsoever to envy Hecuba.

The acting style in general was alarming.  There is a gloriously
handsome soap opera actor named Jacob Young who is notorious for yelling
every intense emotion. These students seemed to have trained with him.
Mind you, they didn't seem untalented, but why did no one ever tell them
not to yell?

There were some other Famous Firsts in this production. It's the first
time I ever saw Polonius come on to Reynaldo by playing with his hair.
Never saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern draw swords on Hamlet before.
Fortinbras' "Aid" putting a bullet in Osric's head, that was a pretty
startling first. Scared Horatio into crouching down and pretending to be
dead. But they caught him and put a gun to his head, too, so that the
command to put the bodies on display had the air of a threat.

Now to the good stuff, which there actually was. The set by Rachel Nemec
was simple: a backdrop of chains hanging from the ceiling.  The costumes
by Isabel Rubio were in grayscale.  As I began to nod off, I was
awakened by a petite, trenchcoated blonde in a French ponytail, who gave
a funny, serious, multi-layered performance as Hamlet being questioned
by Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and then Polonius. I figured out she was
Drue Robinson Hagan because she also played the other Gertrude and the
Gravedigger, and only one person did that. Dustin Helmer, as the
preyed-upon Reynaldo, as well as a Hamlet and an Ophelia, also caught my

Ophelia's mad scenes were shiver-to-the-bone chilling. This is where the
fracturing of the characters into many actors worked brilliantly. The
sane Ophelia wore the uniform of a Japanese schoolgirl: little blouse,
mini-skirt, dark tights. The mad Ophelia was barelegged in her drawers
and she was everywhere. One Ophelia sang, others distributed the
flowers, then it was all of them. Frightening. Indicting.

The last moment of the play, with Noel Arthur's Horatio alone onstage
with the corpses, was exquisite. When Osric was shot, he crouched low
over Hamlet's body, cradling it with his right hand. Now he stands,
almost surprised that Fortinbras has let him live, looks at that hand,
and places it on his heart. Curtain.

The production was directed by John Gould Rubin.

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