the play’s the thing

Hamlet produced by The Cameri Theater at Signature Theater

I think the Israelis spied on me. I think they peeked into the Field School Carriage House in the fall of ’98. They saw me and my co-conspirator, the artist formerly known as Gronsbell, and they liked what they saw. Gronsbell and I were hard at work directing a production of Hamlet that we thought was edgy, young and original. Though chances are it wasn’t that edgy and original since Israel’s Cameri Theater’s production felt very similar.

Just like our high school adaptation, Cameri’s Hamlet was set in the present day in a set that looked very corporate. The look was highlighted by the audience being seated in swerve-able office chairs imported from the Holy Land. The action of the play was set on all sides of Signature’s black box space. The chairs all received much use as Hamlet runs circles around them.

Just like our high school adaptation, Ophelia looked like a barely pubescent teenager. In both versions her waif like physical quality and angsty personality helped to make sense of her emotional downfall. Thanks to the Cameri’s production not having a High School cast, the rest of the actors were not teenagers. This was a good move. I was especially taken with their Polonius who ignored his daughter and kissed up to Claudius all while holding himself as a very refined gentleman.

All around me during the intermission and following, people were describing the show as brilliant  (a comment that Gronsbell and I received as well).  I would not describe it as such. I wonder if people were just astonished to hear the Bard in Hebrew.

There was one thing that transcended our high school production: Itay Tiran was an incredible energetic Hamlet. I’ve never seen that role played with more energy and emotion.

There were somethings about the show that was very Israeli, the ease at which Rosencrantz and Guildernstern carried their guns, the sabra quality to the buff Laertes. The language was an interesting combination of classical and modern Hebrew (or so I’ve been told: I only understood every fifteen words). On a side note, it felt odd to have Christian iconography with the Hebrew text.

I was thrilled to be able to see Cameri’s sold-out production (even if it was not the most origninal and unique) and salute Signature for bringing them.


One Response to the play’s the thing

  1. Alexander Strain says:

    It was interesting to read your thoughts on this production as I wasn’t able to see it, and everyone else seems to be lavishing suspiciously overwrought praise upon it. I wondered whether the novelty might sway people or whether it truly would elaborate on ideas that might not have been necessarily clear had you been hearing the text in english.

    An energetic hamlet is certainly a plus though, as he doesn’t leave the stage much.

    ‘Hamlet’ strikes me still as the impossible play to produce. It is just far too familiar to so many, that rather than witnessing performance or story, you simply evaluate how each performer/director/designer chose to interpret each aspect of the play. I’ve read an article about how Gielgud, Olivier, Brannagh, and Gibson, each spoke ‘To be or not to be . . . ” analyzing their respective breaths and pauses between each word. Absurd.

    This may be why a Hebrew Hamlet jolts the senses into immediate “brilliance!”, because it is such an immediately unique and unpredictable experience for the American Theatre, while still having that inherent familiarity to not be alienating or jarring.

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