Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hamlet ...or...The Play Really IS the Thing

New York

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.

What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow as night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

OK, Dear Readers. Did you recognize all of the above quotes as coming from Hamlet?  Well, I didn't. Not until I re-read ( or maybe read for the first time, I'm not sure if I had to read it in high school ) the play last week.

Lest you think I'm committed to reading the classics of literature before I die, that's just not true.

Why Hamlet, you ask?

Well, it's another New York, oh, New York, it's a hell of a town vignette, I suppose. I have always wanted to go to the summer production of Shakespeare that the Public Theater has provided in Manhattan since the mid70s. The performances are housed in the Delacourte Theater which is minutes from my apartment. 

Why hadn't I attended before now if it was such a deep felt desire? Simple. I just wasn't willing to sit in line for hours, really, hours, to get the free tickets when they became available. For the past several years, I've walked by the faithful who queue up complete with comfy chairs, books, journals, papers, musical instruments--whatever will pass the time.  I'm sorry. I just don't have it in me anymore to go to those lengths.

Last year, I tried to buy tickets from the Public's website. Hah! That was a joke The performances were sold out practically before the New York Times printed the notice that they were available. So, I sadly decided that I would hope that I would meet someone who was a season subscriber to the Public, and they would invite me to Shakespeare in the Park. Lovely fantasy.

Instead, this year, by some universal twist, I received a flyer about the Public's summer season, and ticket offer for Hamlet. I jumped at the chance. And, just to add to the serindipity, Kathi, my scene partner in my NYU course loves Shakespeare, and wanted to go.

And so we did on Tuesday night.  The cast includes Sam Waterston ( who incidentally played Hamlet in the mid70s production of the play by the Public ) as Polonius, Lauren Ambrose as Ophelia ( you know, the youngest daughter in Six Feet Under ), Andre Braugher ( Homicide )
was a convincing King and uncle to Hamlet. 

But the stunner was Michael Stuhlbarg, Julliard grad who made me increasingly anxious by his take on the Denmark heir to the throne as he grieved his dead father, and the too-quick marriage of his mother to his uncle, the old King's brother. A little cozy, not to mention hasty.

The staging was simple and effective including the use of lifesize puppets to enact the play within the play, the use of modern costume ( it looked a little like any military dictatorship in the present day ). 

The amazing thing for me was the magic that happens when words leave the page and inhabit a cast--especially with the added work required by the heft of Shakespeare's genius with such rich text. But they made it live for five acts, for three hours, amidst helicopters overhead, sirens on 81st Street, bats scooting from treetops. 

And for the record, in this xanadu moment, our seats were in the third row.

Go see the show. Go to New York, ignore my advice and stand in line. It's brilliant. I think ole' Will is hovering, smiling, and certainly approving.

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