Sunday, March 1, 2009


If you're like me, then your experience with Hamlet can be summed up in two phrases: "high school English" and "Mel Gibson." Seriously. So when Julie N. of Wine Me, Dine Me, Cincinnati invited me (and all of us bloggers) to come, my initial reaction was: GOD NO!!!!!! I don't have good memories of Hamlet.

I'm pretty glad I went, though :-).

Watching HAMLET, the first thing you'll notice is that 99% of the lines in the play have been referenced or alluded to in other plays, movies, and productions. Beyond just the two stereotypical lines of "Alas, poor Yorick" or "To be or not to be," there are whole sections that are part of our common language -- "What dreams may come," "Get thee to a nunnery" (why did I think that was Macbeth), "Frailty thy name is woman" (duh), "neither a borrower or lender be" (sage advice, these days), "brevity is the soul of wit," etc. etc. etc. In short: it's good to go back onto plays like Hamlet and other English classics simply to remind ourselves of the beauty of our language and from whence some of our vernacular arises.

But, back to Falcon Theater's Production of Hamlet at the Monmouth (on Monmouth in Newport) (Falcon Theatre webpage, Monmouth Theatre webpage, Facebook event):

After its negative review in the Enquirer -- stating that the play lacked vision or something -- I was a little worried about the 2h and 45min I would be spending watching the play. However, the last time the Enquirer loved a play -- Dead City -- I couldn't figure out what the play was about and ended up dozing through half of it. Goes to show you: don't trust the Enquirer make up your own mind.

If you don't remember anything from the play, I'll give you the heads up: Hamlet talks. A lot. That is, the character feels it necessary to soliloquize and monologue every couple pages. Thank god Ted Weil, also the Artistic Director of the company and one of its founding members, knows how to do Shakespeare. Is he a Kenneth Branaugh or (ha) Patrick Stewart? No. However, it's clear that Weil knows how to perform a Shakespearean speech and pulled them off with the intensity that is required for the part. He was able to use them effectively as part of the story line, rather than detract from my enjoyment, which could have happened with less talented persons.

The rest of the cast was variable, but nothing truly stood out as truly bad. In fact, I would say that rather than leaving with a negative impression, I remember mostly good. Though Carrie Mees as Ophelia started off as one of the weaker players, she absolutely stole the show by the end. When the character goes bat-shit crazy and starts playing with the broom as if it were a bunch of herbs, I was mesmerized. Simply amazing -- I'm actually quite concerned for the actress's mental health, after that performance. I wonder if the theatre would ever put on Scotland Road; if so, Mees would be an absolutely stunning "Woman" (blah blah, one of those plays with a character with no name -- I know -- but I always liked the show). The Player King (Michael C. Potter, I think), also, had an amazing moment when Hamlet asked him to recite a speech from... oh, God, I was sounding so smart and now I forget where the speech comes from. And I hesitate to write "the Death of Garbanzo" because I doubt it was about the passing of a bean. It also turned out to be one of the stronger points of the play -- rather than being embarassed by the melodrama (as I am apt to be in movies and plays), Potter played it off perfectly and made it seem almost natural.

The costumes, by the way, were stand-out amazing. They were beautifully made, so much so that I want to bring back in the tunic-leggings-and-leather-boots look for men. I totally think its time for Victorian revivalism in fashion. The set was minimalist and was completely utilitarian -- nothing spectacular, though I disliked staring at the turret about halfway through. Regardless, I'm glad the company didn't try to create an expansive set; the simplicity allowed us to focus on what clearly is Falcon's strong point -- the talent and enthusiasm of its players.

The only three complaints I really had were middling. First, there were two male roles played by females -- Horatio and Marcellus. Though I understand the Shakespearean history of cross-gendered performance, our two choices here were far too feminine. However, the parts were not expressly male (ie, we were not dealing with an awkward, sort-of-same-sex love triangle, though that would have been interesting), so it was not terrible. And, actually, Horatio (Holly Sauerbrunn) wasn't all that bad, and I look forward to seeing her in future roles (I never got the part of Horatio, anyways -- I think he was just put in there so Hamlet could tell someone "I am dead"). Julie, as well, is far more suited to glamor than to utilitarian guard duty as Marcellus (she got the chance as the Player Queen and the Ambassador). I wonder if the two characters would have been more standout if the company had taken the chance and just make them women, rather than try and take two talented actresses and put them into drag.

A side note: the term "drag" is funny because one of the supposed originations of the word is from Shakespeare, who would mark "DRessesd As Girl" in the sides of his scripts when you had a cross-gendered character. To use the term "drag" to refer to a female dressing as a male, especially in this sense, is teetering on inappropriate. But I digress...

Second, there were a couple of moments where there were noticeable "busy hands," where characters clearly were not sure what to do with their hands and were just doing whatever. It was rare, and it was far more noticeable in the first 10 minutes than in the rest of the play. I'd chalk it up to working into their characters, especially in the inital court scene where you have most of the cast just standing around reacting. Even when I acted, I was never sure what to do with my hands except put them over my mouth to gasp. (I never did butch well.) Third, there was not nearly enough hot guys around. I mean, really. But, then again, I thoroughly believe that I should have a litter carried by oiled muscle boys to take me wherever I go, so perhaps I expect too much.

Overall, my preview into the Falcon Theatre Company at the Monmouth Theatre was thoroughly enjoyable and top-notch. I look forward to going back and seeing more, especially since the company tends to run more mainstream shows (last season included The Diary of Anne Frank and Hair) mixed in with some new ones and things I've never heard of (including the next show, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, which runs from May 1-16, which they promise to be full of camp and kitsch -- which you know I'm excited about).

In order to standardize my theatre reviews from now on (this is #3, and I think we'll have #s 4 and 5 in the next week or so), here's my new system for reviewing: how much of the cost of the full price ticket was this particular show worth? HAMLET's full price ticket was $15, and I'd say you would get a good $11 or $12 of enjoyment out of it. To my mind, that's a pretty good deal.

Oh, and I am going to try to work the term "strumpet" into my daily speech patterns. If you get called it by me, it's being said with love... and maybe a little vengeance a la Hamlet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hamlet was my favorite.

never saw the mel gibson version.