The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0921  Thursday, 19 October 2006

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 
Gero. -Hardy]

Shakespeare in 2 Houses, Bloody and Plain
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 
Will alone.

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  

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