Monday, August 22, 2016

Wittenberg! Wittenberg! Eins, Zwei Drei!

Alas, poor everybody
I would have thought HAMLET was just as bullet-proof as A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, so tight is its plot. Shows how much I know.

I went to see a production of HAMLET in an UWS park recently and I disliked so many things about it. I managed to force myself to stay until just before Ophelia's mad scene, which was two hours in, but really I should have left when Hamlet meets up with Rosencranz and Guildenstern for the first time in the play and they all shout "Wittenberg, Wittenberg, Eins Zwei Drei!"

I wish I was kidding.

You can do a lot of editing to Shakespeare's plays and take liberties with direction, setting, costumes etc. and it's all forgivable. I may not agree with your choices, but it's forgivable. But adding your own text - and that wasn't the only time in this production - is absolutely wrong.

Prior to the Wittenberg cheer I thought the director's biggest sin was casting himself as Hamlet, when he looked to be about the same age as Gertrude, and there were many worthy men in the cast who were not only younger but had more charisma and projected better. And the ghost of Hamlet's father was ridiculously animated - more so than Hamlet in their first scene together. 

And then there was the unusual choice of having Ophelia wear a painter's smock and a oil-painting brush in her ponytail in an early scene. I couldn't understand why until they got to the nunnery scene and Hamlet said...
I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
has given you one face, and you make yourselves another...
Either the director and/or the dramaturg decided to de-couple "paintings" from "you make yourselves another (face)" out of ignorance; or they don't agree that when Shakespeare says paintings he's referring to make-up; or the worst possibility, they wanted to jazz things up with an alternate take on the concept of painting to give Ophelia a back story. Ugh.

No I absolutely did not hallucinated that paint brush
in Ophelia's hair.

And then there was the directorial decision to enact the Hecuba speech. Which pretty much misses the point, which is that the actor could make himself cry while reciting a speech - which Hamlet remarks upon. And the director seems to consider the audience on the same level as Polonius - they aren't able to handle sitting there listening to a speech - they have to have a sword fight and a woman playing Hecuba walk out and do a mime/dance while waving the Greek tragedy equivalent of pom-poms.

I could go on but it was a free show and you get what you pay for. I feel sorry for the actors. And the director too, actually, he seems to have no clue, but boy does he love to put on plays.

One thing that did occur to me that isn't the fault of this production - but when Polonius is droning on until Gertrude pleads: "more matter and less art" - I'm fairly confident many in the audience had no idea that Polonius is supposed to be tiresome because of his speech - because from a modern television and movie-watching audience perspective, virtually all Shakespeare characters use excess verbiage and take forever to get to the point.

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