Last night Jonah and I were invited to the grand opening of a new theatre space that is going to go through more renovations and hopefully, be a new spot for new and vibrant theatre in our city. The show they chose to christen the space with was a production of Hamlet.
I was actually excited to see the show because I like Shakespeare and I like Hamlet. I also thought maybe it would be a chance to make some contacts with this particular theatre company because who knows, maybe I can work with them someday.
This company has a lot of money behind it, and they are trying to get other individuals with money to invest in it as well. One of Jonah's friends (well, I guess she's become my friend, too) is one of those potential investors, and she is the one that invited us to the show.
From the get-go, it was terrible. They should have called it Highlights of Hamlet because that's essentially what it was: a scaled down production with only the main players (Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Horatio, and the Ghost of Hamlet's Father) present. The show was only 90 minutes long and was so butchered that if you didn't already know the story (fortunately, I did) I think it would have been hard to follow. As a result of the butchering, many of the characters and relationships lost their depth.
I tend to believe the main fault in the production was in the direction of it. I got the feeling that most of the actors on stage were capable of doing a better job if they had had a director who knew what he was doing, but it didn't appear that he did.
There was so much overacting going on up there that I felt like I was watching a melodrama. During Ophelia's madness scene, I felt like I was watching a Carol Burnett sketch where the actress in purposefully over-the-top for comic effect. That would have been fine if the tone of the scene called for it, but it doesn't, or so it was just reeally bad.
The actress playing Ophelia, who evidently is a resident member of the theatre troupe, was easily the weakest player on stage. Horatio was a close second. He was often unintelligible and lacked any life whatsoever.
The Ghost of Hamlet's Father was loud, but I couldn't understand about 85% of what he was saying.
Laertes was a super over-actor. I guess it's appropriate that he and Ophelia came from the same gene pool. He was waaaaayyyy over-the-top. No subtlety at all. When he was mourning his sister's death, it was one of the most melodramatic things I have ever seen on a stage. I noticed, too, that his voice was raspy, and I'm sure all that yelling, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and scenery-chewing he was doing was the cause.
Gertrude and Claudius seemed like capable actors. In fact, Jonah knew the woman playing Gertrude and said that under normal circumstances he would have expected better from her than what we saw. I wasn't wowed by either of them, but I think in a different play with a different director they might have done better.
There was one scene where Claudius was whipping himself that just seemed so broad it was almost laughable, and the scene with Gertrude and Hamlet in her chambers was just laughable.
Hamlet was okay, but I felt like he rushed through so much of what he was doing and didn't really understand what he was talking about half the time. He also had a kind of casual approach to the language that I didn't think worked well. Moments that could have been poignant were quickly brushed over.
The only actor that I felt even had a grip on what he was doing was the actor playing Polonius. He was the only one who I felt understood the style Shakespeare ought to have. He could be a bit over-the-top as well, but for Polonius I think it works.
Jonah hated the costumes. It was a mish-mash of modern and period that didn't work. The acting was like that, too. Some were too casual, and others were too melodramatic, and there was little cohesion.
I also found the lighting very distracting. With so much money going into this thing, why couldn't there be decent enough lighting to keep the actors well-lit? The set was sparse, but that seemed intentional, and I wasn't bothered by it.
Mostly, I just thought it was badly directed. I can't believe a good director who understands the story and language of Hamlet would have allowed his actors to make some of the choices they made last night, and worse, I suspect he misguided them into actually intentionally making those choices.
It was terrible. It's probably the worst production of Hamlet I've ever seen, and I actually felt embarrassed that these actors, who had obviously worked very hard on the piece, were in such dreck. It was nearly unbearable. The only good thing about it being such a pared-down version of Hamlet was that it was over more quickly. In fact, as each scene played closer to the end, I started to get happier because I knew we would be out of there soon. Since there was no intermission, I actually felt like we were trapped into watching this thing.
I also was annoyed by the audience, many of whom kept getting up and down and leaving and coming back in. I didn't blame them for wanting to leave, but I did think it inconsiderate, as I felt similarly toward the individuals who couldn't seem to break away from their text-messaging devices for an hour and a half.
I also wondered if the people who gave a standing ovation genuinely thought the play was good or if they were just trying to be supportive of this new company and space. I suspect the latter. I noticed my row didn't stand.
We had been invited to mingle with the actors after the show, but I couldn't bear to do so. What would I say? "I have never seen an Ophelia quite like yours." "Wow, that was quite a production." "You sure were acting hard up there." "Wow. What can I say? Unbelievable."
Jonah and I noticed that Jonah's friend, who was also supposed to stay afterwards, ducked out as well. In fact, I spoke to her as we were leaving. She, admittedly, knows little about Shakespeare and asked my thoughts. I tried to be diplomatic and said, "Well, it wasn't my favorite production of Hamlet."
She replied, "They want me to serve on the board, and I just don't think I can."
I was please that I was not alone in my assessment of the show. As she and I continued talking, it was clear she hadn't been impressed, and Jonah's friend (and her husband) who had been sitting next to us at the show clearly didn't care for it, and Jonah and I spent the whole way home talking about what an awful production it had been.
It's sad, because this community could use more good theatre and more classical theatre, but if this production was an example of the type of shows this theatre company will be producing, I think the community can do much, much better.
I will say this. I do believe a lot of hard work went into the production, and I do believe there was some talent up there. I just think it was misused.