The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0739  Thursday, 1 November 2007

[1] 	From:	Elliott Stone <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
	Date:	Tuesday, 30 Oct 2007 17:36:40 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0726 Hamlet

[2] 	From: 	Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
	Date: 	Thursday, November 01, 2007
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0726 Hamlet

From:		Elliott Stone <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:		Tuesday, 30 Oct 2007 17:36:40 -0400
Subject: 18.0726 Hamlet
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0726 Hamlet

I would like to make it quite clear that I have not seen the Wooster 
Group's Hamlet. I was in my posting only reporting what the New Yorker 
Magazine had to say about the play. I agree with that part of Mr. 
Shepherd's comment that found it unnecessary to discuss the issue of 
dying from AIDS. It certainly would not have been brought up by me had I 
written the review. My attempt was to show with great irony how 
ridiculous the New Yorker's reviewer managed to get in her attempt to be 
avant-garde in this avant-garde production.

I would like to wish Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group success in 
this play and all their productions.

Elliott H. Stone

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Thursday, November 01, 2007
Subject: 18.0726 Hamlet
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0726 Hamlet

During the past few days, two interesting pieces have appeared in the 
_New York Times_ regarding the Wooster Group's _Hamlet_ currently 
playing at the Public Theater. I have included excerpts from both below. 
The first of these that appeared today is Ben Brantley's review; the 
second that appeared Sunday provides a behinds the scenes account with 
comments from Scott Shepherd, who plays Hamlet, pertaining to the 
production's origins. I find the project to be fascinating and hope that 
I can figure out a time to get up to New York to see the production 
before it closes in early December. I fondly remember playing hooky 
during my junior year in high school to catch the Burton film at the 
Hippodrome Theater in downtown Baltimore.

November 1, 2007
"Looks It Not Like the King? Well, More Like Burton"

Now you see him; now you don't. And, oh, the frustration of it.

The mesmerizing ghost of Richard Burton, at the height of his fame, 
materializes and dissolves again and again in the Wooster Group's 
meticulous re-creation of a production of "Hamlet" staged on Broadway 43 
years ago, starring Burton and directed by John Gielgud.

This downtown troupe's sometimes ravishing, often numbing homage to a 
fabled theatrical event turns Burton's performance as the Prince of 
Denmark into a tantalizing on-screen disappearing act at the Public 
Theater, where the show opened last night.

Under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte, the technical team of the 
Wooster Group has massaged a filmed version of the Burton "Hamlet," 
which had a brief theatrical release, into a liquid, black-and-white 
canvas of evaporating forms and faintly heard voices. Surely never 
before has Hamlet's wish that "this too, too solid flesh would melt" 
been so literally fulfilled.

This "Hamlet," which places mimetic live performances before the grainy, 
wall-filling screen version, is much more than an overextended visual 
pun. As the actors, including the inexhaustible Scott Shepherd in the 
title role, try to give flesh to the fading phantoms behind them, the 
production becomes an aching tribute to the ephemerality of greatness in 
theater.  For how could anyone without a fully equipped time machine 
hope to summon exactly the experience of Burton on the stage of the 
Lunt-Fontanne Theater in the spring of 1964, including what audiences 
brought to the production? [ . . . ]

As the Wooster ensemble renders to its best ability the exact stance and 
tone of the filmed actors - even rapidly moving to match a shift in 
camera angles - the effect is often stilted, antiquated and downright 
satiric. But every now and then one or another of the performers will 
seem possessed, for just a second or two, by the animating spirit of 
that long-ago performance. It's like the moment at a seance when the 
table starts to rock.

This astral convergence is achieved with the help of some inspired 
earthly technology. The mechanical layering of sounds, in particular, is 
hauntingly effective, so that Mr. Shepherd and Burton sometimes seem to 
have merged voices.

[ . . . ]

Ms. LeCompte, it must be granted, stays unswervingly true to her central 
point of view, that of a 21st-century "archaeologist inferring a temple 
from a collection of ruins," as the program notes say. This production 
maintains its intellectual distance by stopping and fast-forwarding the 
filmed action.  (Remote-control icons are always on view.) Sometimes the 
word "unrendered" shows up on the screen, meaning a scene has been lost. 
This allows the troupe to fill the vacuum by checking their cellphones, 
reading magazines or, in one hilarious (and withering) sequence, running 
footage from the Kenneth Branagh movie "Hamlet" instead.

Yet what is of such priceless worth in this production - the evocation 
of the longing to know what a past performance was like - is established 
with great eloquence early on. I was quite happy (and occasionally 
rapturous) during the show's first half. But by its second, I felt it 
had crossed the line from hypnotic into narcotic. And I found myself 
thinking more and more and more of Gertrude's admonition to Polonius: 
"More matter, with less art."

October 28, 2007
Inspired by Ghosts of Hamlets Past

[ . . . ]

"Hamlet" runs through Dec. 2 at the Public. That the Wooster Group is 
even doing it is a testament to the influence of Mr. Shepherd, who has 
always had an obsession with that play, memorizing every word after 
mounting and performing in a student production at Brown. The Wooster 
Group has traditionally avoided Shakespeare, preferring works with more 
contemporary language. "I really resisted it," Ms. LeCompte said in a 
recent interview. "I didn't think we could do it."

But her worries were allayed after she sat in on a few late-night 
readings of the play at the company's Performing Garage, organized by 
Mr. Shepherd, who was secretly hoping that she would take over the 
project. "Maybe there was a little anxiety that I was getting too old to 
play the part," Mr. Shepherd said in an interview after rehearsal.

The company began working on the play by watching film versions, 
including those starring Kevin Kline ("He was so jumpy," Mr. Shepherd 
said), Kenneth Branagh ("Terrible") and Ethan Hawke ("They're making it 
as cool, modern and filmic as possible - and it doesn't work").

"The original idea was to make some kind of statement that Hamlet is the 
collection of all Hamlets," Mr. Shepherd said, "so we would somehow mix 
several of them together to create a Hamlet Frankenstein. But then Liz 
became interested in the Richard Burton production."

It was in part a nostalgia trip. Ms. LeCompte had seen Burton's Broadway 
version (directed by John Gielgud), but what really grabbed her 
attention was the discovery that the production had been filmed and 
shown in movie theaters around the country in what was something of a 
groundbreaking and short-lived experiment. The Wooster Group set out to 
reproduce this production, taking the play that had been turned into a 
film and reversing the process. The original production - which was in 
its time somewhat experimental - had a stripped-down, rehearsal-room 
aesthetic, with Burton, wearing casual black clothes, at the center, 
heatedly emoting the great speeches.

In the Wooster production a video of Burton's version is projected on a 
large screen on the back wall, presenting a ghostly image that provides 
something of a template for the company members to mimic. But what makes 
this production different from, say, "Poor Theater," another Wooster 
production in which the actors reproduce an old performance, is the 
emphasis on honoring Shakespeare's text.

[ . . . ]

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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