Wednesday, June 18, 2008
What a piece of work is this? Director Oskar Eustis has put together such a hodgepodge of set, costumes, sound and time periods that I began wondering what show he was doing. To leave, or not to leave at intermission, that was the question. My friend Carolyn favored leaving; I thought the production would improve. It didn’t.
Before the show even begins things look strange in the state of Denmark. The set is a huge ship. Why? I don’t know, other than to guess it’s some comment on the ship of state. Despite this being Shakespeare’s most produced play, I had never seen it, but I’ve read it several times and I kept trying to remember what sailing had to do with Hamlet. I never did find out, but the theme continued, with several actors in sailors suits who look as if they had wandered over from South Pacific, which is playing nearby.
Speaking of costumes, designer Ann Hould-Ward gives us an array of styles from which to choose. Besides the World War II Navy uniforms, she offers courtiers who look right off the set of "Masterpiece Theatre" and a Hamlet (Michael Stuhlbarg, in photo) who, in the opening scene, resembles a 19th century country preacher. Gertrude’s (Margaret Colin) look is 21st century Wall Street executive at a cocktail party and Ophelia (Lauren Ambrose), in her madness, would have been a perfect 1980s London punk rocker. The time is, indeed, out of joint.
And then there’s the mishmash of sound, with the roar of helicopter blades calling to mind a Vietnam-era movie, while the bombardment in the battles sounds like an invasion of Nazi Germany. The occasional chamber music is lovely and made me think of Sunday brunch.
All thoughts of brunch were vanished in the final scene, which is so bloody I thought I had ended up back at the recent Broadway revival of Macbeth, which I hated. When Claudius (André Braugher) gets his just desserts, the sword is so far from his throat that when he suddenly begins spouting blood the audience laughed. Fight choreographer Thomas Schall needs to put in more time with this cast. Poor Horatio (Kevin Carroll) gets his brains blown out by a handgun, splattering his blood over the white metal wall of the ship and calling to mind a Mafia movie. Since when does Horatio die at the end of Hamlet?
This production reflects Hamlet’s state of mind -- profoundly confused.
Then there’s the acting, which also is uneven. The actors do a nice job of articulating, but as for expressing emotion or connection to one another, that is pretty much missing. I felt Friday as if I were watching an early rehearsal, instead of a final preview. Sam Waterston as Polonius is the exception, giving the best performance of the evening. Incidentally, Mr. Waterston played Hamlet in the Public’s 1975 production.
The show runs until 11:30 -- so much for brevity being the soul of wit -- but people had begun slipping out way before that. It might have been the power of suggestion prompted by Hamlet’s “To sleep! perchance to dream.”
I did find hope at one point. When Hamlet delivers his “what a piece of work” soliloquy the song of that name from Hair popped into my head. That late 60s musical is the next offering at the Delacorte. Singing it in my head gave me something to look forward as life in Elsinore dragged on.
NEW TICKET POLICIES THIS YEAR:
Tickets Available Only At Delacorte Theater or Via New Virtual Line On Public Theater Website
This year, free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are only being distributed at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park or via a new virtual line opportunity at HYPERLINK "http://www.publictheater.org" www.publictheater.org. The Public Theater is not distributing tickets downtown at 425 Lafayette St. due to ongoing construction on the exterior of the building.
The Public Theater has launched a virtual line initiative this summer to increase accessibility to Park shows. While the majority of the tickets are still given out at the line in Central Park, a limited number of tickets will be available each show day online. The virtual line allows people who are registered at the Public Theater website to log-on the day of a show (starting at midnight) to submit a request for up to two tickets. At 1 p.m., they can log-on to the theater website again to see if they have received tickets for that evening’s performance. The tickets are held at the box office and a valid photo ID will be required. The selection process is completely random and is not determined by what time of day a person submits a request for tickets.
As in the past, tickets will be available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at 1 p.m. (We got in line at 9:30 a.m. and had no trouble getting tickets, but we’ve gotten there at that time in the past and barely gotten in.) The closest entrances to the Delacorte are at 81st Street and Central Park West or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.
For additional information about Shakespeare in the Park, call (212) 539-8750 or visit The Public Theater website at HYPERLINK "http://www.publictheater.org/" www.publictheater.org.