06.17.08: culture blotter {hamlet @ shakespeare in the park}

"...and a voice said ZUUL." (2 of 2)

[upper west side, via cell phone]
1: just find a bar to take cover in and i'll meet you there!
2: no, YOU find a bar, i'm going to get our tickets!
1: you're fucking crazy!

one of the nicest things about having a website is my apparent ability to make things happen by bitching when they don't (see: getting love from mcsweeney's, winning money with a scratch-off lottery ticket, winning a trip to iceland*). i learned last week of the virtual line for shakespeare in the park (that is, you can sign up for a lottery between midnight and noon and then check back in the afternoon to see if you've gotten tickets; in previous years, you had to actually languish on the street all morning). that was the good news; the bad news was that hamlet is only running through the end of the month, and we're going to be in california for a week as of this saturday, and the number of tickets distributed through the virtual line is comparatively teensy.

it worked, though, and i was all set for my dub-shakes fix when the apocalypse kicked up at quarter to seven. i can't say for sure that little dogs on leashes were taking to the air like box kites as i scurried past the museum of natural history, but i can't say for sure that they didn't. joe said a huge tree branch came crashing down at his feet when he was en route to the box office, which is why he was yelling so loudly on the phone. i probably should have hidden somewhere, but the storm really was more excellent than scary. also, i really do love shakespeare, damn it. how often is it situationally appropriate to yell that into a cell on a street corner in the middle of a hellacious thunderstorm? we both made it to the delacorte, where it poured for about half an hour, but the theater staff assured us that the show would go on if the weather let up at all; a few nights ago, they'd played through the rain and just pushed water off of the stage between scenes(!). we bought cheap hamlet garbage bag ponchos** in case it got bad again and settled in.

the show itself was marvelous in spots and disappointing in others. sam waterston (who played the last hamlet in the park in 1975) gave polonius a single, devastating moment of dementia (in act 2, he falls silent for about twenty seconds while instructing reynaldo) that was one of the show's emotional peaks; i think that vulnerability made his death much more tragic than it usually feels. i left the theater convinced that my favorite lines in act 5, scene 2 had been mangled - i could have sworn that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends" and "the readiness is all" were part of the same speech - but apparently i give my memory more credit than it's due (see: manhattan locations of wendy's, previous post). i could also swear that the play most certainly should not end with horatio taking a bullet in the head, execution style, but i am historically resistant to hypermilitary versions of the tragedies ('99 royal shakespeare company othello, i'm looking at you). michael stuhlbarg is a fine hamlet, especially in the first few soliloquies; his soft, breathy delivery is much more interesting than that of super-manly hamlets i've seen, and it pairs nicely with the hysteria of his manic scenes later on (he reminded me of jonny lee miller as sick boy in trainspotting). lauren ambrose was meh as ophelia (she didn't have much chemistry with stuhlbarg, so her insanity wasn't very tragic), and i really don't care to see anyone other than derek jacobi as claudius, but still: i love shakespeare.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever powered through a foul-weather show? was it worth it?

02 if you could cast one of the tragedies however you liked, who would you conscript? i'm going to have to think about that one for a while, but i'm pretty sure robert loggia would be old hamlet.

03 is it ethical to make a delivery guy bring you takeout in central park in the middle of a storm? (note: i did not do this.)

*trying this one next: what the hell, iceland? where's my trip?

**still in their packages since the rain never really picked back up, but i can't wait to have an excuse to wear one: they're covered with the show's skull logo. hamlet ponchos!


wabes said...

actually, we were just talking about something like this tonight, post-opera (with the folks in berlin), and what you could say about the 'la boheme' we had just seen. we stuck it out in a rainstorm in denmark when i was 10 or so to see the RSC do hamlet. or, actually, to see kenneth branagh do hamlet. in the rain! on a stage at kronborg castle, where hamlet is set! the queen of DK was there, too. all i remember was her blue umbrella, and hamlet/branagh lying face up with the rain pouring down on him, holding a skull.

lauren said...

good god, wabes: i'd have held my ground through a crop dusting for that!

unrelated aside: i neglected to mention the eerily beautiful puppets basil twist created to perform the hecuba and mousetrap sequences with the players. they were little more than brightly colored sheets twisted into human shapes, but they were really striking, particularly the green-blue figure of the murderer, who was fantastically demonic. sub-branagh, to be sure, but a nice touch.

Meg said...

You know, it's wonderful posts like this that make me think your talents are being wasted over at the ladymag. Though, to be fair, I have not picked up the ladymag in a while, perhaps you are reviewing Hamlet these days, for the ladies, and their beach time reading.

And I mean "wasted" in the best possible way, of course :)