Tonight is the final performance of Ian W. Hill's Hamlet - a bittersweet farewell. I wish I was doing more shows, hard as it is, but that's not possible, so this is it. Maybe again in August, 2008, when Equity would allow me to do it again with the AEA actors I have in it under the Showcase Code a second time. But for now, no more.
It has been the realization of a longstanding dream, and one of the hardest goddamn things I've ever done. The rewards of it just barely outweigh the time, effort, energy, money, and emotional battering that have gone into it. Just barely. And at times, for hours even, they haven't been worth it at all.
But it IS worth it, and beyond, when I come into contact with the people who've seen it, who got what I was going for, and who appreciate it. Then it doesn't all seem like a waste of time and energy.
Rick Vorndran, of the Dysfunctional Theatre Company, came to the show on Tuesday, and wrote me a lovely email this morning, which became an extended email conversation about the show - and exactly the one I needed to have this day, to stave off the pre-post-partum depression that begins to show up as a production is fading away.
Here's what came up (with some slight editing):
Just wanted to tell you how much I really enjoyed Hamlet. I don’t give this complement often, but I thought a lot of the direction and acting was hitting Off-Broadway levels. Some of my favorites:
The script edits, particularly getting away from the introspection that’s coming from the strong acting anyway, (including cutting the most famous monologue in the English language!)
The subdued performances of Polonius, Gertrude and Claudius – particularly Claudius. It was pretty nice to see a Claudius who looked like he was conflicted about his own selfish desires AND trying to do what’s best for the country, as opposed to chewing scenery. Plus the three of them balanced out your more selfish, less introverted Hamlet.
The shameless use of Nyman/Greenaway music (yes, I use that music a lot too)
The very political end. Executing Horatio, an invasion while those selfish fucks at the top fiddled, words obscured by violence, etc. Not at all influenced by current events, right?
Pretty dang good use of your platforms for staging. My favorite was the dock with waves SFX. The players/theater set-up was a close second.
There’s more, but those are my favorites. If you’d be kind and provide me with your mailing address, I’d love to send you a copy of a show CD I got in England in 2001 - Hamlet! The Musical! Admittedly, a bit different than yours – they had a cast of 5. (My favorite was having Claudius & Gertrude play the Gravediggers). You’ll get a kick out if it.
Again, thanks Ian. Really enjoyed it! - Rick
Thanks so very VERY much for the kind words. This show has gotten a wide range of reactions, not all of them good or getting what I was going for (two bad reviews, which I haven't read, but had described to me, and can't read right now, or maybe ever, for my own peace of mind), and it's been heartening to have the people who did get what I was going for say so to me, to remove that hanging cloud of depression that keeps threatening when I often think "I've been working on this for years and years, and I wasn't clear enough, and I blew it."
I'm especially glad you mentioned the work of Bryan, Stacia, and Jerry as Polonius, Gertrude, and Claudius. I'm very happy with all the acting in the show but those were very important, detailed, rich, and worked-on performances, most central to the whole concept, that were designed to be different from the norm, and very very subtle and ambiguous. The problem being that this, to some eyes, simply becomes "a lack of a clear choice" as opposed to "a specific choice towards ambiguity" (though the actors and I had all worked out what REALLY happened, for us). Bryan, at least, got a nice write-up in the Voice, I'm told.
Thanks for mentioning everything else that you did, too. You hit on a few points that I've been wondering whether I made the right choice about (particularly in cutting so much of the "introspective" monologues and asides to use as internal fodder for thoughtful acting), and the more I hear responses like yours, the better I feel. And I am indeed a shameless repeat user of Michael Nyman's Greenaway scores (there's a bit of The Piano and I think Ravenous in there too, as well as the single he did with The Flying Lizards during intermission) -- I just haven't yet found other music that works for me the same way, and I'm glad some other fans out there dig it.
I don't normally get nervous or stage-frighty about my work like this, but this show has been different, and I haven't been able to have the same "This is my work and screw you if you don't like it" attitude that I normally do with it, for whatever reason (a friend I haven't seen in years, one of the first directors I ever worked with in NYC, was at the show the same night as you, and said in response to this point, "You don't think you get to do Hamlet for free, do you? A price must be paid.").
So every thoughtful word about the piece is a great kindness to me right now, thank you.
hope to see you soon, possibly at your fund-raiser (if I'm not dead from this show or in the midst of the four ones I have going up at The Brick in August, one of which opens two days after your event), best,
Ian [and a PS where I asked him about posting these emails and gave him my address for the CD]
So the four of you worked out what REALLY happened? Intriguing. I got the sense that Old King Hamlet (like his son) was a bit of a dick, and killing him wasn’t entirely unjustified. Plus, I really got the sense that Gertrude didn’t know much of what really went down, was trying actively NOT to find out, and is much more worried about running a country (thus she’s often at the desk).
Oh, loved the scene when Laertes comes back, and Claudius calmly puts him down, mainly because you just don’t shout at the frigging king, no matter what’s going on. Really subtle, really nice. Got the sense that Claudius is really worried about things spinning out of control, and what it would do to the country.
And Bryan? Geez, just incredible. That role has just as much baggage as Hamlet.
Feel free to post on your blog, and pass my compliments onto the cast. Again, you’ll get a kick out of the CD’s. The songs are, well, pretty much everything you cut out.
P.S. Yeah, on the cuts, you don’t need an aside of Claudius saying, “Oh no, she’s drinking the poison cup.” :) Nice choices there.
Yup, bingo on all counts -- our thoughts about Old Hamlet, his death, and Gertrude, as well as Laertes and Claudius' dynamic (and Claudius' fear for the country). Oh, SO glad some people get this!
The big thing that came out in the rehearsal process for this production, even after all the years I'd spent working on the text, was the idea of "what it is to be Royal," and the duties and obligations that come with that, which became central to Jerry, Stacia, and myself, as the Royal figures. Too often, Royal persons are directed and played as to be "just like us," the "unvalued" as Polonius puts it -- they are NOT, merely through training and environment, and actors must, as Steven Berkoff notes in his book on Hamlet, not try to "pull" these figures down to their level, but raise themselves up to a Royal one, with the understanding of what that entails.
As came up in conversation last night with someone, a lay Shakespearean scholar, also at Tuesday's performance (who was back to see the other Hamlet in the Festival), as we rehearsed we more and more realized that, Ghost or not, Dead Murdered Father or not (and of course, in our production, it is "not", but still . . .), Hamlet, as Crown Prince of Denmark, does NOT have the right, for the good of his Country and its People, to indulge in his squalid little revenge, which does, of course, basically end his country as the Denmark it was. Though I have as yet found no evidence of anyone before me playing Hamlet as such an outright bastard and villain, albeit a sometimes charming one (there MUST be, right? in all these hundreds of years of people doing the play? there HAS to be!), my interpretation apparently falls quite in line with a certain, and growing-more-popular, scholarly point of view on the play -- which is not something I'd normally be interested in, but it makes me glad to know that there are others who have seen the Bastard Hamlet (as I call him) that lurks in the text.
Anyway, I'm going on, and probably only because I now have half an eye aimed on putting this on the blog. I'll just go do that now, and again, thanks for the praise and the impetus to actually say something about the thing.
Last thought for the blog: Particularly notable was the end of the first half, with your Hamlet seeing the invading army of Fortinbras: Being a sharp and astute prince with good political instincts, he knows that you don’t gather an Army like that for Poland, you gather it for a country like, say, Denmark. That’s a point that escapes Ros and Guild. Yet, the selfish prick still says, screw that, I want my revenge because Daddy told me to do it. And Saddam . . . er, Claudius tried to kill Daddy. I mean, killed Daddy. No, no political relevance there at all.
And liked the choice of using either the Branagh music, or something really like what he used in his movie Hamlet, to underscore, for the exact opposite effect. It’s selfish, not noble. Hamlet should know better.
And maybe nobody’s really tried a Hamlet like this before, because nobody could believe the son of a former leader could be so stupid, selfish, and politically dense. Nope, not topical at all. Dang, I wish I woulda thought of this.
Oh, thank you - again you got exactly what I was trying to get at there!
And . . . uh . . . yeah, that music under that scene is one of my favorite dark "jokes" in the show -- it's the London Symphony Orchestra performing the classic American "traditional" rock-and-roll revenge song, "Hey Joe" (hee, hee) as Hamlet looks out at Fortinbras' army and gets THE EXACT WRONG LESSON FROM IT. And so he goes and metaphorically buys his blue-steel .44 to come back and shoot his woman (shall we say, Denmark?) down.
It's funny how these things come together at the right time - I've had this conception of Hamlet kicking around my head for 18 years or so (the director who came the other night, who directed me as Marlowe's Faustus 15 years ago, remembered clearly many of the concepts I had for the show that I had talked about back then that he had just seen on stage), and yet suddenly I get the chance to put it up, and boy howdy is it the perfect, topical time, right?
again, thanks for making the points so I can comment and expand on them rather than just write an essay on my blog - the dialogue is more interesting than the monologue . . . best,
One more thought:
Is it possible that (a) Old King Hamlet was a despot, (b) C and G felt they had to get rid of him before he completely ruined the country, (c) G realizes the throne will likely pass to another selfish despot unless she acts quickly, so (d) marries C so they both can start reforming, but (e) don’t appreciate the threat that Hamlet poses until it’s far too late? They may not even be intimately involved, except as partners.
Pretty cool interpretation, if that’s the case.
This is a variant that was definitely discussed among us (I guess we didn't decide on everything that happened EXACTLY, but we had some branching possibilities that led to the same emotional places). Either Old Hamlet was a despot or going mad himself (his son gets it from somewhere), and very likely, as I mentioned yesterday on the blog, a wife-beater. Gertrude may or may not have been involved in his death (we pretty well decided "not") but knows that whether it happened or not, it's better for the country at this point that Claudius be King, with Norway threatening - Hamlet will be King someday, NOT NOW, but when he and the country are ready for a more "peacetime" King. Claudius and Gertrude do indeed care about each other, but their partnership as King and Queen does come first (at least for her, she being Queen first and foremost above all).
The great sad moment for Gertrude is when she looks at Hamlet in the bedroom scene and says, "Alas, he's mad" as she realizes that her son will NEVER be fit to be King of Denmark, and who knows what the hell they'll have to do now?
It was wonderful in rehearsal to go through these bits and have them fall into place and just feel like everything MADE SENSE.
okay, putting this all on the blog now - and maybe I don't have to go over any of this there ever again . . . we'll see . . . best, IWH
Never go through it again? Dream on.
Thank you, Rick. Dysfunctional Theatre, creators of the wonderful I Am Star Trek, written by Rick, and which I hear may come back to an NYC stage somewhat soon, is having a benefit event on July 30, as mentioned above. Info is HERE