"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!" Act I, scene ii
|Shakespeare at Stinson beach ; June 24, 2006 Stinson Beach, CA, USA|
Reviewed on : 2006-07-10 08:19:36 ; Reviewed by : Denise Battista
|Every season I look forward to my drive over the Golden Bridge and into the
magical land of Shakespeare at Stinson Beach. Canopies of jasmine,
brilliant tangles of nasturtium, long purples and daisies, maybe even a
crowflower or two decorate this outdoor theatre that lives just a minute's
stroll to the ocean. Casual, yet classy playgoers claim their folding
chairs or perhaps a picnic table for their spread of cheese and glasses of
wine, and we all wait for the play, because the play's the thing, you know.
The stage is set with translucent, rice paper-like partitions that act as
both castle walls, and as opportunities to eavesdrop. They also serve as an
unspoken aside, permitting the audience to know, for example, that Polonius
and Claudius are present as Hamlet sends Ophelia to the nunnery, or that
Polonius (well-played by Leon Setti) hides behind the arras in Gertrude's
bedroom, just moments before he is slain. Also onstage are tall, jail-like
bars that Hamlet grasps when he announces that Denmark is a prison, and
Laertes (Stephen Massott) clings to in his immaculate death scene.
Hamlet, portrayed by Stinson Beach newcomer Joseph O'Malley, enters stage
left reading a small black book. Hair tousled, a black suit with loosened
tie, and suitable black and white Converse shoes adorn this young and
attractive prince. Suddenly he speaks Barnardo's opening line of the text,
"Who's there?" before rendering his first of many soliloquies: "Oh that this
too too solid flesh would melt." O'Malley almost cries his lines, his voice
cracking throughout. He is obviously distraught, and for good reason, as we
learn in a quick conversation with Horatio regarding his father's
death/mother's wedding. Enter Ghost, and everyone must swear, and we're off
to a wedding, and Hamlet is mad, and and and!
Suddenly I'm out of breath. What happened? Did we really cut through the
entirety of Act 1 in a matter of minutes? Brevity is the soul of wit, but
it is neither the heart nor the mind of Hamlet. For some reason, director
Kenneth Kelleher chooses to abridge his production to the point of almost
troubling waters. In the end and throughout, I was thirsting for more.
More contemplation. More moments that give us pause.
However, this play offers both strong acting and intriguing design. Veteran
Shakespeare actor Jack Halton is a triple threat as the Ghost, the Player
King, and the Gravedigger. Halton plays each scene with a chalky, whitened
face, regardless of his character, and although I found it somewhat lazy at
first, Halton's fine acting, and the common purpose of each of these three
characters (the presentation and representation of death) overshadows the
possibility of anything less than brilliant. The set is adorned with blood
red Japanese? (forgive my ignorance) characters on the walls of stage left
and right, spelling out "Murder" and "Incest." I didn't understand why
until the play within the play occurred. The visiting players perform "The
Murder of Gonzago" with a Japanese? flair -- the troupe donning Asian dress
and white half masks for the duration of the dumb show. Nearing the end of
this moment of silence, Gonzago's demise comes by way of a red fan that
methodically and gracefully slices the air before his throat. At this
moment, Claudius (played by the always strong and consistent Anthony Shaw
Abaté) screams for light. He charges the stage and rips the mask from
Halton's face. Beneath the mask is the same chalky white visage of the Ghost,
on whose surface is a knowing and accusing look that penetrates Claudius'
and my soul to the core.
I was most impressed by Caroline Hewitt, who stages a delicate and intricate
Ophelia. In her mad scene, Hewitt stands behind a translucent wall, playing
with her hands, and breathing on the wall as if it were a window or a
mirror, so that she might finger her madness in her own breath. She takes
the stage with her hair tangled like the weedy trophies that would
eventually leave her drowned, and moves through her distraction in both
sadness and seduction. Backstage and before the scene, Hewitt changes out
of her black and white dress and into one that is blue with purple flowers.
As she doles out remembrances of rosemary, fennel, and rue, Hewitt reaches
into her pocket and pulls out small remnants of her black and white dress.
To compensate for the violets that withered when her father died, Hewitt
kneels on the floor of the stage and cuts up the dress she is wearing. She
is so sad, and so lovely.
I would rather be impressed by an intricate Hamlet, but unfortunately where
there is a most, there is a least impressed. O'Malley's Hamlet is neither a
Hamlet of contemplation nor action. He is a Hamlet of reaction, and of
regurgitation, most evident is his many soliloquies throughout the
performance. I like to hear Hamlet's soliloquies unfold by way of thought
and deliberation. To be or not to be is a question, not a lesson. O'Malley
may have had an off night, but in consequence, I was left in the dark.
Except for the perfect scene O'Malley plays with Michele Delattre (Gertrude)
in the famed "bedroom scene." Delattre and O'Malley commingle with such
chemistry that I am suddenly reminded of the incestuous characters that
paint the wall. At one point, Hamlet kneels on the bed while his mother
sits, wringing her hands. He bombards her with memories, with
contemplations, with maddened means for repentance, and in the frenzy, O'Malley's hand slips between his mother's thighs and causes this proud man's contumely to be greatly contemplated. This scene made me hope that the rest of O'Malley's performance was just a matter of an off night that could be easily
reconciled with another that was on.
Of interest, Kelleher's production both begins and ends with the same line,
"Who's there?" The play ends with Horatio (Rob Dario) seeming to mirror
Hamlet's opening scene. Dario is dressed comparably; he sits on the same
bench - although on the opposite side of the stage - and holds the same book
as Hamlet did in his opening scene. He also closes the play with the same
sudden opening words: "Who's there?" I question whether the average
playgoer knows what O'Malley and what Dario are talking about when they
usurp those two crucial words. Keep in mind; these two words replace the
first 175 lines of the play, and displace Fortinbras altogether. In
retrospect, I find that this works, although it required much contemplation.
When Dario asks who is there, he is the last remaining soul onstage; Hamlet
remains onstage, though slain and silent. By speaking these words, the play
comes full circle, and I am left to question in what time I viewed this
play. Did the events occur in real-time, or was it all a matter of Horatio's
recollection -- his eternal recollection that comes in consequence of having
survived this tragedy. Perhaps Kelleher's Horatio mirrors Hamlet because
Horatio is the internal pen of this production, and it is through his eyes
that we learn of the Tragical History of Hamlet Prince of Denmark.
Shakespeare at Stinson Beach, also known as the North Bay Shakespeare
Company, is touring Kenneth Kelleher's production of Hamlet throughout
California's North Bay through August 6th, 2006. Go to
www.shakespeareatstinson.org for details.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Hamlet in the Presence of His Father's Ghost
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