Hamlet --  02/09/06

Nancy and Jill and I went to see an absolutely marvelous Hamlet on Tuesday night.

It was at Trinity Rep in Providence. Trinity is the leading theatrical company in Rhode Island -- indeed, in all of Southern New England (although regular readers will know that I absolutely love 2nd Story Theatre in Warren and have been a season subscriber almost from their start -- in fact, during intermission at Hamlet we were chatting with a friend of Nancy's and I was proselytizing for 2nd Story).

I knew I had to see their Hamlet the moment I knew they were doing it. So we've had these tickets for weeks and I kept watching the date come closer on the calendar. They did a fantastic job; there was no let down at all.

The costumes were designed to be vaguely 1930's and Polonius was played by a woman (thus, she was Ophelia's and Laertes's mother, instead of their father) and that actually worked quite well. The guards wore outfits that might have been worn by Danish soldiers in that time (they looked like Russian troops) and the ghost of Hamlet's father wore a heavy military great coat. Thus, the guards carried rifles and when Hamlet killed Polonius he used a pistol instead of a sword. The duel between Hamlet and Laerties was still fought with sabers, of course.

Hamlet was played by Stephen Thorne -- whom we had seen a few years ago in Trinity Rep's excellent production of Thorton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth [parenthetical note -- Wilder is one of my favorite playwrights -- a year or so ago I enjoyed 2nd Story's production of The Matchmaker (the play that was the basis for the musical Hello, Dolly), but my favorite Wilder play is Our Town.] Hamlet's uncle was played by Timothy Crowe (he was Mr. Funderberk in the movie Outside Providence -- which sort of seems like a Farrelly brothers's but isn't -- the screenplay is by Peter Farelly, based on a novel he wrote, but the movie is directed by Michael Corrente -- and if you're looking for a funny movie to watch this weekend, wander into your video store and ask for it

Ophelia was delightful -- played by Rachel Warren (who, interestingly enough, had also been in that production of The Skin of Our Teeth) -- and I hope she doesn't catch pneumonia before the run of the play is over. There are some acting areas in among the audience -- such as the chapel where Hamlet catches his uncle in prayer -- and a big old clawfoot bathtub where Ophelia is splashing about (including splashing some nearby members of the audience) as they play the beginning of Act IV, scene 5 -- the end of the IV.5 is played on the main stage -- "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts" -- which has been covered by a huge billowing white cloth -- and Ophelia is in a dripping wet nightgown. I almost think that some of the shaking in her voice was caused not by method acting but shaking and shivering due to being very cold.

The most noticeable change they made was to eliminate the arrival of Prince Fortinbras and the Norwegian army in the last scene when all of the bodies are strewn about the stage. This was, I think, a key part back when it was first on the stage -- a sign that chaos was not about to descend, there was some authority that could restore order -- but is not required for modern audiences. Instead, many of Fortinbras' lines are given to Horatio. It worked just fine for me.

I see that Stephen (Hamlet) Thorne is also going to be in Boots on the Ground coming up this spring -- a play about Rhode Island troops in Iraq, based on interviews with the soldiers, their families, friends, journalists, ministers, tearchers, etc.

Last week I wrote about the difficulty freelance journalist Michael Yon was having with the Army about their violation of his copyright to a photograph he had taken. An Army lawyer has issued the opinion that the release from damages he had to sign before being allowed into combat zones absolved the army of responsibility for any loss due to their theft of his copyright. This problem had gone on for almost seven months -- it was made publilc by several blogs last week -- and by Friday the vast quantities of e-mail (plus, apparently a number of generals are readers of blogs) worked and General Brooks apparently found a higher ranking lawyer who over-ruled the previous opinion and the Army and Mr. Yon came to a mutually satisfactory agreement.

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