Saturday, October 25, 2008

cruel to be kind

ok ... hamlet at the courtyard theatre (pictured above). it was really wonderful, and i had a fantastic seat. seven rows from the front, two seats away from the aisle. the production was in-the-round, so the actors passed close by me up that aisle many times during the night. the only drag was that at times the actors stood with their backs to me or were slightly blocked by others on the stage, but that never lasted long.

i feel like i could go on at length about it, and i probably will. this was my first live shakespeare experience ever -- what a way to start. DT was really good, but patrick stewart was also fab, and indeed most of the actors were great. oliver ford davies was quite memorable as polonius (maybe not as awes as hume cronyn in 1964/richard burton, but oh well), and mariah gale as ophelia was very good. one of the things i liked about this production was how it managed to convey the way ophelia's madness reflects the escalating insanity of the whole scene while never making her a mere symbol. when we first see her interacting with her brother, laertes (edward bennett), she's really comical and playful, her body language mocking his admonishments to guard her virtue -- he's blathering on about hamlet's dangerous affections, and at one point she lies on the floor on her back and scissors her arms and legs as though her whole body is going "wah wah wah, whatEVER, dude!" yet by the end she's this hollowed-out shell -- the effects of being treated like a commodity by everyone -- from her father to her brother to hamlet to the queen -- having taken a horrible toll. she's all streaked with dirt and blood -- her right hand's even bandaged around the middle as hamlet's left is, 'cause he cuts himself while vowing to avenge his father's death ... a really nifty mirror image, i thought. and her last scene where she's handing out the flowers/herbs and talking about their symbolic meanings is really moving and kind of choked me up.

seeing patrick stewart in this, having watched his portrayal of claudius in the derek jacobi hamlet from 1980, was really eye-opening. the performances are sooo different -- and not just b/c this production is modern-dress. he still doesn't seem as evil as he should seem -- i mean, claudius is a bad dude, what kills his brother for his crown and his wife. but i think he should've been even more despicable. OTOH, stewart does put across the character's elements of ego, cowardice, and oily self-assurance, while giving the king a kind of charm that one could see working on, say, the queen ... and the people.

the production was pretty daring in spots, and in others it seemed like director gregory doran was going, gettit?gettit?gettit?!!!!!! like when ophelia is being lectured by laertes about not entertaining hamlet's overtures, and she retorts that she hopes he's not just telling her to be virtuous while he himself goes down the primrose path, and she digs through his suitcase and yanks out two condoms and waves them around. or just when the play-within-the-play is about to happen, and hamlet asks ophelia "shall i lie in your lap, lady?" and she's all freaked out, and he's like, "i meant my head in your lap. did you think i meant COUNTRY matters?" and tennant falls back and thrusts his hips forward a few times ... yeah. i mean, that IS the pun, but, i dunno. subtle. and when ophelia goes nuts in front of the king and queen, she strips to her underwear, which was just like, goddammit, is no young actress ever allowed to keep her clothes ON anymore?

the cuts didn't bother me that much -- it's true that, while horatio says, "so rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead?" after looking at a letter, we don't hear about how hamlet faked the letter to england that ordered them to be killed, etc. etc. it kind of doesn't matter, but OTOH, the kill-or-be-killed situation that he's in with them does demonstrate that hamlet's not totally incapable of calculated homicide (or whatever ... death by other people, is that still homicide? it was in charlie manson's case, right?). i think maybe that shows that doran wasn't so interested in the whole "a man who couldn't make up his mind" thing. BTW, peter de jersey as horatio was excellent, and i've really come to appreciate horatio as a character -- he's one of the only truly decent ones, a guy who is just doing for hamlet b/c he's his pal. and his reward is he has to stick around and tell everyone else what happened -- he doesn't even get to die, to sleep, to go to heaven.

more surprising was the cut at the end, where fortinbras comes in after "good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," and just removes his helmet and stands there. w/o saying his piece and having hamlet carried off like a soldier. the other sort of political/military parts are left in -- the bit where claudius entreaties norway to keep young fortinbras in line, and the part where hamlet encounters the troops going off to fight the polacks. all the military stuff was staged very modernly -- the latter part involved helicopter and radio noises and guys coming down ropes from on high. (except the king's guards had these old-fashioned uniforms on with crazy helmets ... but i guess that even in modern times, palace guards can be wearing silly hats.) but hamlet was not borne like a soldier from the stage. he just laid there in horatio's arms and looked angelic and dead. maybe the point was that hamlet was NOT a soldier, and to assume he would've become one would be too much ... especially in this day and age when real soldiery is indeed going on, inna seriously deadly stylee. i dunno.

also, tennant said "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in OUR philosophy," and i'm not sure if he misspoke or if that's how they're doing it here. (s/b "your philosophy," said to horatio.) seems a pretty big line to eff up, so i will assume it's intentionally different.

like many reviews said, tennant excels at the physicality, the intensity of emotions like grief and anger, even some of the questioning of the human condition, but he kind of, i don't think fails, but falls curiously short in the existentialism department -- eg, to be or not to be was ... i'd give it a B. (ahaha.) but he was really entertaining to watch, often extremely involving, and certainly he gave it his all. hamlet's scene with his mother, gertrude (penny downie), in her bedroom was really intense and wrenching. all of his interactions with horatio were lovely, and his playing of the calculated madness was breathlessly giddy at times. ophelia's final scenes really mirrored that arms-flailing, brain-babbling pace -- much to gale's credit.

there were some points where little tics of tennant's showed through and recalled the doctor, faintly -- like the way he'd say "weellllllll" and certain mouth movements and gestures. (and i had to laugh when stewart actually did the picard manuever (at the link, the 1st meaning) at one point, yanking at the bottom of his vest to straighten it and readjusting his tie.) but i've seen DT in enough stuff to know that he does have some oft-employed tics. like most actors, i guess.

at the end the whole cast took many bows, and when they left the stage for what seemed like the final time, patrick stewart, david tennant, and the other stars walked out via my aisle. so i got a good look at them all. and just before he would've passed my row, tennant got this little look of one-more-time on his face and ducked back round to go onto the stage again to soak up a last solo wave of adoration. then everyone came back out for yet more bows. my hands hurt from clapping so much!

i really enjoyed the show, but the thing i might have liked best was seeing DT's face at the end. he was just beaming with happiness, like he'd live on the stage if he could, and it was lovely to see such pure, unfettered joy on a person's face. i suppose in part b/c the role is so demanding, and the character of hamlet is so mercurial, and angry and brooding and fake-insane and all, that tennant's glee once he was out of character was such a delight.

anyway, i did not go to the stage door afterward. just seeing it was enough. instead i went to the actor's bar at the dirty duck and had a drink. i ended up talking to this nice young couple (wife a big DT fan), and we had fun spotting all the different actors who came in. pretty much everyone passed through except tennant and stewart -- the wife, vanessa, suggested they might've taken such a back way to the back patio, which was reserved for the actors/friends. we didn't really expect him to come in, but i think we were both hoping a little. the husband, mark, actually got up at one point and told her he'd go do recon and see if he was out in the back. i laughed and said, "now, THAT'S love!"

PS (on mon. nite 10/27): i wish there were more photos in this post, but i'm afraid i might have crashed the B&B's server while trying to add some -- i'm in bath now, more on that soon -- so for now you'll have to deal with words words words. i'll make smaller versions of photos and do a separate photo post later. also, there will be more words. fear not. or do. or something.

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