(A Poe fo Show)
Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stars as the title character in this well crafted, intimate production of William Shakespeare’s longest and most powerful play, Hamlet. A timeless tale of a troubled prince who plots revenge against his uncle, who murdered his father in exchange for the throne and his mother.
Directed by Tony Award winner Sam Gold, this 4 hour production of the life and death tragedy is performed at The Public Theater – a Shakespeare Workshop in New York City. It was founded in the mid-1950s by Joseph Papp. A place where up-and-coming playwrights and performers are able to showcase their work.
The Anspacher Theater, one of the chambers within The Public, is where Hamlet is featured. Although, you won’t find your typical, escalated stage here. Instead, there’s a small raised step in the background, primarily used as an actor “bullpen,” and for prop storage. The performance space is mostly the flat surface of the theater’s red carpeted floor, surrounded by a semicircle of 275 seats.
The space is tighter than what you might expect, yet very cozy. That’s what made this particular experience so special.
If you’re unfamiliar with the work, you certainly might recognize many of Hamlet’s poetic lines, recited in film and television. The original Star Trek, for instance, made numerous references to the play – usually spoken by Bones, and then called out by Spock. The sixth film was even subtitled The Undiscovered Country, which is said in the famous “to be or not to be” monologue (Act III, Scene I). Or, perhaps you’re familiar with that iconic image of Hamlet holding the skull of poor Yorick, a fellow of infinite jest.
Classic quotes and images aside, you might also assume the play is dressed with armored knights and such. After all, it does take place during the Middle Ages, in and around a royal palace in Elsinore, Denmark. Nevertheless, it’s been interpreted many different ways, using many different eras.
This particular interpretation of the Shakespearean classic, here in New York, is unique. It requires your imagination, as the actors project their superb talents in selected casual attire, while using limited props and no backdrop scenery. A sturdy folding table, flowers, dirt, wine bottles & glasses are the extent of what you’ll see. A 21st century sight with 400-year-old dialogue.
Hamlet (Isaac) is seen mostly in a black t-shirt and hoodie, an occasional gray sweater, and sometimes a dark pair of sweatpants. In the middle of the play, when his lunacy escalates, the troubled prince bounces off the imaginary walls in his black underwear. A sight all the ladies in my party certainly enjoyed; however, it portrayed the character in his appropriate idle state.
Horatio, portrayed humorously by Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), wore a short sleeved polo shirt and jeans.
Claudius, the King of Denmark, played by Ritchie Coster (The Dark Knight), wore what appeared to be a light gray linen suit and black t-shirt. When he switched to play the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father, he removed the blazer and t-shirt.
Ophelia, played by Gayle Rankin, wore a dark blouse and skirt. Her father, the king’s chief counselor, Polonius (Peter Friedman) was the most formal in a three piece suit and tie. He is also the father of Laertes (Anatol Yusef), who wore an open short-sleeve button down and t-shirt…
As for the remaining talented cast… Matthew Saldivar portrayed Guildenstern in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts; Charlayne Woodard wore a stunning purple dress as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude; and Roberta Colindrez appeared to be quite comfortable in her jogging suit, as Rosencrantz.
To compliment all of the above was an original music score, composed and performed by Dutch musician Ernst Reijseger. Setup in the corner of that small raised platform, Ernst delivered subtle, eerie music from a cello and wooden pipe organ – with the occasional accompaniment of wooden pipes, performed by the cast. This also marked the first time I’ve witnessed someone pluck cello strings in a guitar-like fashion. Something Ernst displayed throughout the show, whenever the mood called for something more cheerful.
We may have missed him at Star Wars Celebration – most likely due to his preparations for Hamlet – but, after a few moments of patience by devoted fans – mostly flailing fan-girls, like my girlfriend and her sister – we met the star himself. Oscar Isaac entered the lobby shortly after the show ended and, humble and kind gentleman that he is, greeted each and every one of us.
The sold-out show began its run on June 20, 2017 and is scheduled to end on September 3rd.
Within this wall of cyber flesh, there is a soul that counts thee its creditor very much for reading. In other words, thanks for reading.
Farewell for now,