ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Hamlet from the Theatre De La Jeune Lune
By Elyse Sommer
The Hamlet that's making a ten-day stop at the New Victory Theater uses all the stage techniques that have built the Minneapolis based La Jeune Lune Company's reputation for artfully finding that "something new in the old " -- masks, pantomime, improvisation, clowning and commedia dell'arte. It's certainly one of the most beautiful productions I've ever seen and with a Hamlet (Steven Epp) like no other. He's more clown of Denmark than by birthright the country's Crown Prince, hardly a man you'd want to have in charge of a country.
To begin, we see masked figures circling the sand covered stage, their torches lighting several pools of water, one for Hamlet to dip his foot in as he ponders whether "to be or not to be." The striking images continue for the almost two and a half hours -- Claudius (Vincent Gracieux) and Gertrude (Barbara Berlovitz) in blood-red costumes reflecting the murder that made Claudius the crowned king and the dead king's widow his wife; a striking confrontation in which Hamlet, in the embrace of his father's ghost (played by Gracieux in a sly bit of double casting), confronts the duplicitous Queen; a satisfyingly savage battle between Hamlet and Laertes (Stephen Cartmell).
Before I go any further, a caveat for parents. While this adaptation is at the family-geared New Victory Theater, and despite the title character prompting more than a usual number of laughs, this is not Hamlet for kiddies. Granted that without all the psychological and political elements, the play is essentiall a family story. However, the feud between the familes of Hamlet, Ophelia (outstandingly portrayed by Sarah Agnew) and Laertes has enough sex and violence for parents to be well-advised to heed the New Victory's recommendation not to bring children under twelve. Hamlet doesn't just stab Claudius, but does so several times over as if taking pleasure in the deed. Not exactly something I'd want some of the six to ten-year-olds I saw the night I attended to see.
And here's another caveat. This one for purists, and along with some never-mind reassurance. The concentration on the family drama will have you looking in vain for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Fortinbras the Prince of Norway. Obviously half of the full length means some good stuff must fall by the wayside. What's more, despite Fredericka Hayter's stunning masks and the lovely to look at and exciting staging, the longer first part of the production during which Epp indulges his Hamlet in his most comic antics, goes somewhat too far over the top. Happily, the most memorable passages are not only there, but delivered thoughtfully and without the rushing by all members of the cast, including Epp. The second part of the play succeeds at combining Hamlet's highest emotions with the immediacy and physicality the company aims for.
Marcus Dillarrd's lighting augments the mood of each scene, and Sonya Berkovitz's costumes are perfectly suited to the non-specific time frame. Finally, enough can't be said about Eric Jensen's original music, performed from a box at the side of the stage by Jensen and cellist Elizabeth Karges. It punctuates the flow and tempo of story's building tensions.
My caveats and quibbles aside, La Jeune Lune has put on quite a show, full of interesting acting and staging choices. No Bardophile will want to miss it.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.