Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hamlet in motion

I had a similar experience some years ago seeing Hamlet--I forget where, but likely an outdoor production: Late in the play, somewhere in Act IV , I realized I'd somehow missed the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. What happened: did the director cut it, the actor forget it, or had I somehow spaced out?

This time, I knew I'd paid full attention to every gripping moment of New York Classical Theatre's production of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark at the World Financial Center (given the echoes, I did miss some words here and there).

But I'd arrived a few minutes late--Horatio et al. were talking about the apparition they'd just seen--and reading the program on the way home, I realized in those minutes I'd missed the famous soliloquy.

The synopsis in the program begins:

"Inside Elsinmore castle, Hamlet, consumed by grief over his father's untimely death and, followed by his mother's marriage to his uncle Claudius two months later, wrestles with taking his own life. He chooses to live."

So director Stephen Burdman must have moved the soliloquy to the front of the play--before the familiar version actually begins.

Looking though the play at home, I found the soliloquy in Act III, Scene I, delivered as Hamlet makes his way to Ophelia, whom he will shortly tell, "I loved you not," and urge "Get thee to a nunnery."

That evening, despite the powerful performances of both Justin Blanchard as Hamlet and Ginny Myers Lee as Ophelia, I'd found something emotionally lacking and oddly implausible about that wrenching scene. Now I understood what had been missing (for me at least)--those agonized words of Hamlet to himself directly prepare for the terrible, life-shattering ones he will speak to Ophelia.

New York Classical Theatre specializes in outdoor ambulatory productions (this was their first indoors), in which audiences move with the actors every couples of scenes. I saw one in Central Park a few years ago--either a comedy or Henry IV, Pt. II--and whatever it was, it felt to me almost over before it had begun: Shakespeare Lite.

That this Hamlet, at little more than half its usual length, is not Shakespeare Lite is due to the fine performances.

I admired Justin Blanchard's Hamlet so much that I'm thinking about returning tonight to catch the soliloquy I missed--and to see again his extraordinary transformation from the Prince of Denmark to the imagined ghost of his father.

On second thought, I'll wait for a chance to see this talented actor deliver the soliloquy in the usual place--in another, fuller production (an opportunity devoutly to be wished).

You have one more chance to catch Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, at the World Financial Center: tonight at 7.

Don't be late.

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