BWW Reviews: HAMLET and ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
Doing Hamlet by itself is a tall order, and combining it in repertory with Tom Stoppard's 1967 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is an even taller one. But The Seeing Place Theater has taken on this unenviable burden. To complicate things further, Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican, the Artistic and Managing Directors (respectively) of The Seeing Place Theater, each co-direct the two plays. AND they play Hamlet and Ophelia. It's a monumental task.
Their Hamlet is quite good, a nearly-uncut, though modern, interpretation which is, first and foremost, collegiate. There is a real sense of 90s slacker student in Walker's Hamlet, he is full of contemporary unguided ennui which transmutes into the passion of an activist upon hearing of his father's murder. Walker speaks the lines clearly and intuitively (if a bit too quickly sometimes), displaying a full understanding of the text. Janice Hall as Gertrude and Jason Wilson as Claudius are presented as decadent nobles, constantly eating and drinking even as they receive guests. Hall also delivers an interesting reformation in the latter part of the play, becoming more ascetic in costume and action. Cronican acts Ophelia well, although her sensual and womanly body is not the usual type expected in the role (she is not helped in this by Kristin Carbone's costuming (otherwise fine), which often make Ophelia seem more like a sophisticated 60s debutante than the green girl of the text). Robert King and Philip Lakin as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are here fine. Alex Alcheh is an impassioned Laertes. David Arthur Bachrach gives his Ghost a nice feel for the drama of the situation, but his Gravedigger is a bit lacking in the humor. Max Lorn-Krause is an effete but solid presence as Horatio.
As with most modern Hamlets, there is no explanation given for why there are guns and swords (swordplay is handled very well, with fight direction by Teddy Lytle). The cast makes interesting use of the set, having Hamlet perch extremely high at times, like a vulture overseeing the action, and a set piece opens up to become a grave. The more than three hour running time makes one remember why Hamlet is usually trimmed a bit more than in this production; in today's world we already know the outcome, so just about any exposition after the closet scene feels tiresome.
R&G takes a mouse-eye view to Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, mixing it with absurdist comedy and ontological angst, as the two obsequious college friends of Hamlet are transformed into philosophers. Unfortunately, this production is marred by an almost willfully misguided understanding of the text. Robert King is a subdued and unconcerned Guildenstern, while Philip Lakin gives us a manic and anal Rosencrantz, which is pretty much the opposite of the way they're written. They also mumble and stumble through Stoppard's dense text, not conveying a lot of the wordplay.
Bachrach as the Leading Player seems more a put-upon General Manager than the menacing figure he's meant to be. And his tragedians (Alex Alcheh, Oliver Lehne, and Kristin Carbone) are well-dressed, well-groomed, and perky, not the desperate creatures of the script (one can even afford a Stage Manager's stopwatch around his neck, which is an amusing touch in theory, but would have been sold long ago by the impoverished characters). Bachrach has also had some of his lines stolen and dispersed amongst the rest of his ensemble, lessening the character's formidable effect. And furthermore this production has been stripped of sexual ambiguity by having the aforementioned Carbone in the company of the tragedians as the Player Queen instead of Alfred (Lehne), making the Player's comments about transvestite melodrama, how to act like a Queen, and Alfred's implied prostitution confusing if not outright pointless- (Lehne at one point does don a skirt for a brief sight gag, but is never convincingly female and quickly returns to his plain black costume).
Someone made the decision to break up the three-act script into two acts, inserting a non-textual intermission which comes as a bit of a shock and spoils one of Stoppard's gags. In fact some of Stoppard's textual physical comedy is dropped in favor of other interpolations: there are, of course, scripted moments in which the main characters of Hamlet intrude on the lives of R&G, but the directors have added more, seemingly at random. These are also not the same character interpretations from the repertory Hamlet, as Walker's Hamlet in this appears as a wild drunken frat boy in an entirely different costume (I saw the R&G first and assumed that this was Hamlet's "Antic Disposition", which would have been a startlingly fresh interpretation in Hamlet, but is unseen there). Gertrude and Claudius accompany themselves on kazoos, providing their own fanfare. So instead of doing the plays as one, as the repertory idea would suggest, and having the two plays connect in any meaningful way, the directors pile more wacky schtick onto the parts of R&G that weren't funny enough, when it's not meant to be a zany comedy but an ridiculous tragedy in its own right.
Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Performances run May 31-June 30, 2013; Tuesday - Saturday at 7pm. Saturday & Sunday at 2pm.
The Seeing Place @ ATA's Sargent Theater; 314 West 54th Street, 4th Floor. NYC
ALL TICKETS - $12
From This Author Duncan Pflaster