A succulent breast dispensing good recommendations (yendi) wrote,
A succulent breast dispensing good recommendations

A damned fine Hamlet

We (Elayna, sindrian, gwynraven, and myself) saw the new Hamlet from the Psych Drama Company at the Boston Center for the Arts last night.

Folks, this was amazing.

The use of a female Hamlet is not new (the actor/director, Wendy Lippe, has played Hamlet twice before). Nor is the obvious choice to make Hamlet lesbian. But they went so much further here.

First, there was the choice to not make any other gender changes (from a casting POV) other than Hamlet. The recent productions of Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Twelfth Night that I've seen have all played with a lot of casting changes, but focusing on only one role showed how that one change has a ripple effect.

There were, to be sure, other gender-oriented changes, notably in Ophelia (also a lesbian, for obvious reasons), and Rosencrantz and Guldenstern (implied to be homosexual, not the first time that casting choice has been made). But the focus of the play was not on the sexuality alone.

This was a play about Hamlet's madness. Again, not the first time. Pretty much any good Hamlet is going to be about Hamlet's madness, with the question being to what degree the insanity is for show. A lot of this has to do with how the ghost is displayed, and the choice here was to imply that, while there was clearly something out there (Horatio and company see it, after all), the message might not have been what Hamlet thinks it was. And Hamlet switches from early melancholia to batshit crazy early on, with the implication that Hamlet is crazy, and pretending to be crazier.

But there's a brutal, horrible moment about 2/3 of the way in when the audience (and at least one other character) figures out that Hamlet is completely sane (other than possibly his message from his dad). Even at that moment, actions occur that then do drive her mad. It's brilliant, painful to watch, and one of the best choices I've seen in a long time. Not spoiling it because if you're local, I want you to see this.

There's a lot of sex and violence here; the "get the to a nunnery" scene is one of the most erotic ones I've seen on stage in a while, and if you've ever wanted to see Claudius mostly bare-ass, you'll get your chance. But there's a lot of humor early on, most around Polonius and the gravediggers (of course), but also with Rosencrantz and Guldenstern, who are given layers and depths not normally scene outside of a Stoppard play. One big choice here was to have R+G be the leaders of the players, providing them with a greater conflict as Hamlet uses them to flush out Claudius. It's a risky choice that works brilliantly.

The cast is amazing. Lippe is powerful, conveying hurt, mirth, and insanity wonderfully, and she plays off an incredibly talented cast. Horatio, Gertrude, and Ophelia were all delightful, but Claudius really steals the show. One of the problems with a lot of productions is that that the actor playing Claudius usually goes for the big oratory, but never conveys the sense of pure evil the role needs (assuming you're not seeing one of the productions that portrays him as less than evil, a valid choice, but not what was made here). The Claudius here (note that I don't have my program with me, which is why I can't name names) is perfect, evil without being comical, loving Gertrude even as he plots to kill her daughter.

The choice to make the setting modern and chance the finale from fencing to chess actually allows them to explain the whole "Laertes dies first" thing nicely (as anyone who watches is will see).

Each performance also features a brief post-show lecture on one psychological element of Hamlet (see this page for the schedule). It's a nice touch, but if you're planning on leaving after the performance (understandable, as it's nearly four hours), sit in the center or on the side closest to the door, as the speech starts immediately after curtain calls.

There are eight performances left, running through the 17th. If you're local, try to catch one of them. Good, cheap Shakespeare (tickets are $25 each, $20 for students; you can also use Goldstar to knock the price down to $16.50 after service fees) is one of the great things about living in the Boston area, and this is one of those productions I'll remember for years.

It was also Elayna's first production; I suspect it might have ruined future productions for her. Ah, well.

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