The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0534  Wednesday, 28 October 2009

From:       Cheryl Newton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 20 Oct 2009 16:02:25 -0400
Subject:    Hamlet on Broadway

My friend Rachel Kovaciny & I are co-Hamlet fans & collectors of any 
productions, live or otherwise. She doesn't subscribe to this list, but 
she gets forwarding of any Hamlet discussions. She agreed to offer her 
recent email to me to Hardy, if he would be interested in sharing her 
review. ~smile~ The  insight here is passionate fan not scholarly 
critic. There are photos on the Broadway site of the staging of the snow 
scene & the Queen's chamber. (If you're in OH & want to carpool to NYC, 
let me know, only half in jest!)

It was magnificent.

The set was very austere, with tall stone walls on both sides, L shaped, 
with archways in them for entrances & exits, eavesdropping, etc. The 
rest of the back wall could be big wooden gatelike doors (which had 
normal-sized doors in them, or could be shoved wholly aside, which 
Hamlet did rather triumphantly a couple times), or it could be open to 
the "outside" with a brick wall a bit behind, or it could just be stone 
like the other two pieces and be an interior wall. There were very few 
props, just a chair or bench now and then, and swords/daggers when 
needed, etc. In that, it reminded me a lot of the Richard Burton version 
on Broadway that I have on dvd.  Quite minimalistic.

The costumes were modern, all blacks and greys, except during "The 
Murder of Gonzago" when the Players wore all white, which was very 
striking. Claudius and Polonius and the courtiers wore expensive suits 
and ties, and Gertrude was usually in a spiffy pantsuit or full-length 
dress. Ophelia had very plain, classic dresses, and wore men's pajamas 
for her mad scenes. Laertes was in trousers and a shirt and sport coat 
or sweater vest, very ivy league grad student. Horatio was the rebel, 
always in perfectly-fitted jeans, biker boots, and a black leather 
jacket, with long black hair slicked back into a queue. You would have 
LOVED him. (He was played by Matt Ryan, and here's a link to a pic and 
little bio of him:  http://www.theatermania.com/cast/Matt-Ryan.html 
More about Horatio later.)  Hamlet wore all shades of grey, very 
layered, with a knee-length grey overcoat for his outdoor scenes, darker 
grey slacks, a soft grey button-down shirt he wore both closed and open, 
sometimes a grey cardigan, and underneath everything, a tight-ish, 
stretchy shirt.

As for performances, I didn't hate Oscric (and I often do), I felt 
almost sorry for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Fortinbras was quite 
soldierly and commanding. Gertrude was sympathetic, and I loved how she 
took Hamlet's warning in her bedchamber to heart and gave Claudius a 
decidedly cold shoulder after that. She had a bit of a Glenn Close/Meryl 
Streep look, so a strong woman, not a silly one. Polonius was quite 
good, and got most of the laughs, some in not-so-obvious spots, usually 
because his gestures were sometimes so absolutely perfect, yet 
unexpected. He was officious, but not unbearable. Ophelia was okay, 
though her voice was a bit high and thin for my taste, and she was 
portrayed as timid and pliable. Claudius was excellent, and his closet 
soliloquy was heartfelt and compelling.

Laertes was acceptable. They went the rash, young, headstrong route, 
which is not my favorite interpretation. He was sweet to Ophelia, but 
lacked that brotherly protectiveness I always look for. But I'm hugely 
picky about my Laertes, and only Liev Schreiber has ever played him to 
my complete satisfaction (so far), so I wasn't too disappointed.

Horatio. Ahhh, Horatio. Not only was he HOT, he was GOOD. According to 
the program, this guy is the understudy for Hamlet, and I would dig 
seeing him in the role -- I think he'd bring a nifty edginess to it. But 
anyway, Horatio was the best friend Hamlet totally needs -- strong, 
resilient, quiet, and completely devoted. He seemed to exude an aura of 
"I'm here, don't worry," and also a sense of protectiveness. Although he 
spent much time in the sidelines, arms folded, ever watchful, he always 
seemed ready to leap to Hamlet's aid if the need arose, like he was part 
best friend and part bodyguard. And his "Now cracks a noble heart" 
brought me to tears, it was so heartwrenching. He had a great voice too, 
deep and just a little husky. Reminded me a lot of a young Cary Elwes, 
with his movements and body language, anyway. He'd make a wonderful 
Dread Pirate Roberts.

And then, there was Hamlet. I'm not a big Jude Law fan. I like him okay, 
but I don't seek out his movies. But he CAN act. No question. His Hamlet 
was confused, melancholy, jumpy, and so very tired of this whole mess. 
He did several scenes barefoot, after putting on his antic disposition, 
which was quite sexy, though he's too slumpy and skinny for me to really 
have a thing for him. But he made me cry twice, with his "Rogue and 
peasant slave" soliloquy (which he got claps and cheers for, and rightly 
so, it was probably his best moment) and his "If it be now" speech, 
which is not a place I usually choke up. He was just soooo tired of it 
all and ready to die if need be, so at peace with his fate after railing 
against it for so long... I loved it. Excellent portrayal overall.

Some of the staging was not to my taste -- they blocked everyone very 
far apart most of the time, so characters would be ten or more feet 
apart during a conversation. It felt a bit stagey and forced, not 
particularly natural. On the other hand, the overall distance between 
most characters made Hamlet's closeness to certain ones more noticeable. 
He spent a lot of his scenes very close to one character or another -- 
particularly Horatio and Gertrude, but sometimes Ophelia or R&G or the 
Players  --  with a hand on someone's shoulder or what have you. So in 
that way, it did sorta work to emphasize his relationships.

I really liked the way they staged the first part of the bedchamber 
scene between Hamlet and Gertrude. A big, white, sheer curtain dropped 
down parallel to the backdrop, and Polonius hid behind it on the 
audience's side, while Hamlet and Gertrude were behind it, where they 
were still visible, but not perfectly. It re-enforced the fact that we, 
the audience, are all eaves-dropping on the play, which rocked. When 
Hamlet stabbed Polonius, then the curtain fell down over him and we 
could see the whole stage again.

And I adored all of the soliloquies -- Hamlet broke the 4th wall every 
time and addressed us as if confiding his innermost self to a diary or 
bosom friend. It was especially effective on the "Who calls me coward?" 
section of the "Rogue and peasant slave" speech -- he sort of challenged 
us to own up that we'd called him that. The overall effect, for me, was 
to make me want to run down to the stage, throw my arms around him, and 
promise that everything would be all right. It was intensely personal 
and awesome.

And the end was perfect. Hamlet died in Horatio's arms, with Horatio 
sitting on the floor, one knee up to support Hamlet a little, who died 
with his back to Horatio's chest, Horatio's arms around him. After "Now 
cracks a noble heart," Horatio kissed him on the forehead, very ala the 
death of Boromir in LOTR. And then Horatio stayed there, cradling him, 
through the rest of the scene. He looked very much the steadfast, 
protective, broken-hearted friend to the end. He would periodically 
smooth Hamlet's hair, or lay his cheek on Hamlet's forehead, and 
remained very focused on him, only paying Fortinbras the barest 
attention. Perfect. I was bawling.

I would say Jude Law combined Mel Gibson's almost reckless energy and 
drive with Richard Burton's weary snarl, if I had to compare him to 
performances I've seen on dvd. The cast on a whole was excellent, and 
I'm so glad this was my first live Hamlet. Bravo.

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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