The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0921 Thursday, 19 October 2006
Date: Thursday, October 19, 2006
Subject: Lear and Hamlet in Chicago
[Editor's Note: As the article below indicates, congratulations are in
order for two long-time members of this list: Stacy Keach and Edward
Shakespeare in 2 Houses, Bloody and Plain
By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
Published: October 18, 2006
CHICAGO, Oct. 17
Do you like your Shakespeare plain or garnished? Stripped to its essence
and played in doublet and hose, so the master's genius can be consumed
in its purest form? Or trimmed with machine guns and pop songs
proclaiming in neon the relevance of his themes to our world today?
I've loaded that question, obviously. The pious choice is strict
adherence to the letter and word of the original text. Let those cheeky
fellows who never met a high concept they didn't like visit their
outrages upon Verdi and Wagner in German opera houses and leave dear old
Opt for tradition on a recent visit to Chicago, however, and you'd have
seen a studiously tasteful, perfectly bland production of "Hamlet" at
the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, directed by Terry Hands. But you would
have missed out on the real stage action in this theater-rich city:
Robert Falls's aggressively raunchy, excruciatingly violent "King Lear"
at the Goodman Theater. Kicking off his 20th season as artistic director
at the Goodman with a thunderclap, this blistering modern-dress
production brings alive the morally disordered universe of the play with
a ferocity unmatched by any other production I've seen. ("King Lear"
closes Sunday. "Hamlet" runs through Nov. 18.)
Mr. Hands, a former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company
favors a clean and clear approach in the standard minimalist mold. This
"Hamlet," his first production for the Chicago company and part of its
20th anniversary season, unfolds on Mark Bailey's blank stage shellacked
in black, decorated occasionally by gilt furniture and spritzed with fog
when a change in atmosphere is deemed necessary.
Mr. Hands's uncluttered approach gives primacy of place to the actors,
which can be a blessing or a burden. In the case of Ben Carlson's
Hamlet, it is a little of both. A Canadian actor with 20 productions at
Canada's Shaw Festival behind him, Mr. Carlson is superbly trained, so
at ease with Shakespeare's language that at times he rattles through the
verse with such speed that there isn't time to absorb any nuance.
Even when Mr. Carlson leaves us straining to catch up, his Hamlet is
clearly the smartest guy in the room. But the performance finally lacks
emotional layers. Hamlet's crisis of conscience is so hard to detect
that his detours into philosophical discourse seem to come from nowhere.
"To be, or not to be" does not seem a question that would ever occur
to this driven and oddly untortured young man.
An absence of torture-psychological or otherwise-is decidedly not a
problem in Mr. Falls's sex, drugs and rock "n" roll-drenched "King
Lear," featuring a terrific cast led by Stacy Keach in the title role.
Cruelty of a skin-crawling kind pervades this staging, set in a
Crumbling autocracy inspired by the former Yugoslavia in the late
1990's, but equally suggestive of the oil-rich, violence-riddled Russia
of today. (Regan and her gun-toting entourage tool around in a
smoke-filled Mercedes, a pile of Louis Vuitton luggage tumbling from the
Mr. Falls announces his intention to