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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: David Tennant's "Hamlet" on PBS

David Tennant is a very, very fine actor. Of that there can be no doubt.
In fact, watching him work his way through the many "slings and arrows" thrown
at any actor attempting the role of Hamlet lends even more credence to the above
claim re: Tennant's abilities. So why am I disappointed after watching the much
heralded PBS airing?

Tennant plays the "peevish manic" not well. Not that he's incapable. He
disproved that incessantly from the time he opened his mouth. Something about
his features; too angular. And practically speaking, he grimaced his way from
start to finish. At times, I thought I might be watching The Riddler (Frank
Gorshin) from the old Batman series. The only thing Tennant was missing
was Gorshin's costume with the question marks all over it. And it was difficult
to separate Tennant's manic "crazy person" from the character of Hamlet. Something way too gimmicky was going on; way too cutesy and way too "easy" in the antic disposition dept. for me. An actor with Tennant's abilities need not go the route habitually taken by him.

It undercut Hamlet's intelligence and distracted from what he was saying of
import. Energy is one thing--lunatic energy something else. Tennant had the
latter in spades, making a johnny one note performance out of the whole shebang.
But what really bothered me is that it made Hamlet totally unlikeable; sadly,
and worse, his overdone mania made me not care a hoot about Hamlet or his predicament. I kept feeling as though I needed a flyswatter as a remedy for this Gadfly on Uppers. In fact, I cared about Claudius' travails the more for Tennant's interpretation. Something very wrong here. I hate Claudius.

Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius gave the solid performance expected of him. His
ability with the conversational aspect of Shakespeare's lines has grown to
perfection. Probably the result of cross-pollination--tv, film, and stage--as
this production skirted the boundaries of all three in design. What can one say?
He was great--until he turned into the embodiment of Alfred E.
Neuman in his 'decision' to drink the poison. A "choice" apparently thought
quite brilliant--again suffering from an apparent penchant for easy, cute,
cleverness. An action most probably explained in the program notes--but I had
none at the time. It ruined the entire moment for me--or, what was left of it.

Gertrude (Penny Downie) also proved very adept at making Shakespeare's
lines soar on the wings of understandability. Her gradual decline from hostess with the mostest to a figure withered by the tragedy all around her was an artful thing to watch, particularly since it wasn't achieved totally with the sole help of the makeup

Can someone tell me with what disease was Polonius suffering? The part, played
by (Oliver Ford Davies ) a brilliant actor in his own right, was yet
another victim of modern "cutesy". Was he in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's?
Or was he just a buffoon at these times? I have to say he handled it brilliantly,
and almost made me forget his clownishness during the rest of his portrayal of a
calculating Machiavellian. I especially liked the idea of the inclusion of the
Reynaldo scene (usually cut). But even there, his "forgetfulness" was excused
rather than explained. Polonius is a man always thinking of something else,
some other "designs", and always has too much to say to "explain" himself. He's
not, I don't think, pitiable because he's being ravaged by some "affliction"
(other than his own machinations.)

Ophelia, played by (Mariah Gale)--well, I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
No customary glamor queen (although pleasant looking enough to be desirable on
anyone's part) she was riveting. She brought a true vulnerability to the role
for me that few others have. Her plaintiff cries over the loss of her
Hamlet's " ...noble mind o'erthrown." were heart wrenching.
This was no mere statue of a child, suffering a tragedy she didn't understand
because of gross naiveté. Hers was an Ophelia quite knowledgeable of the ways
of the world, as she was able to explain and support even further in her deft
crafting of the "mad scene". Her awareness of just what it was that was happening
to her made me feel for her all the more. This is someone to watch for, all things
being equal, which they're not. Let's hope the lack of "model status" doesn't keep
this actor from the recognition I think she truly deserves.

The rest; Horatio (Peter De Jersey), Laertes (Edward Bennet), Rosencrantz
(Sam Alexander) Guildenstern (Tom Davey) were all capable enough in their roles,
as one would expect from RSC actors. But I think they suffered conceptually from
having to play against Tennant's maniacal court jester throughout.

Speaking of concept, all around I thought it was quite good in establishing the
modern setting for Shakespeare. And the clearness of the language was admirable. But ultimately, I think the gross deviations, as I see them, can also be laid at the foot of the concept person and Director, Gregory Doran. Failing to rein in Tennant (possibly even encouraging him, in view of some of the other ridiculous "crazy" choices seemingly made for both Hamlet and the other actors) gave us a Hamlet with an energetic mania too serious to be overcome by even the power of the greatest concept artist of all, one William Shakespeare. JM

Monday, April 26, 2010

About theShakespeareProject

Mission Statement

Through a multi-faceted, cooperative, and highly adaptable interface with established arts, business, educational, and theatrical entities, theShakespeareProject aims at the increased and localized visibility and availability of not only Shakespearean works, but also of Classic Literature in general. These treasures are always at our fingertips, yet rarely touched. Grasped once again, in innovative and sometimes unconventional ways, they can have an enormous impact on the uninitiated and the uninterested. The catalytic role these venerated, yet isolated artifacts might play in the increased awareness, communication, participation, and a sense of inclusion among the members in a community has, for the most part, been left to the occasional visit to the library, a courageous book club, or the many times grudgingly-accepted academic mandate of the classroom.

On the other hand, the theatrical form is, by its very nature, communal—interactive and participatory, instructional and educational, as well as fun and entertaining. Utilizing presentational, instructional, participatory, and interactive performance vehicles as complimentary tools--adaptable and symbiotically functional within the architecture of any educational or instructional venue-- members of theShakespeareProject believe that a more than infrequent dusting-off of the museum pieces will reveal how much we actually have in common with them—and with each other. theShakespeareProject is dedicated to the idea that a fresh approach to these literary/dramatic gems, employing them as living examples of excellence, might lead to a regeneration of heightened interest--in the theatre, the classroom, the boardroom—even the family room—and result in a natural and progressive repossession by the community at the grass roots level. A renewal of the interest in our rightful ownership could be the beginning of a new renaissance in thinking, made possible via an enhanced ability to communicate with one another, and spurred-on by an enriched awareness of the true value of our sense of commonality. JM

theShakespeareProject LLC
Joseph Mooney/Mahler
Producing Artistic Director
Contact us at: email:theshaksperproject@gmail.com

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Would You Write on a Card to The Bard?

Friday April 23, 2010

Apart from singing "Happy Birthday to Thee", of course, (I think we might not want to get into the second verse: "How old art thee now?") what sort of thing would you like to say to The Bard if you could write a short something to him on his birthday card?

Me: "Thanks ever so much for the myriad of good and diverse things you've inspired in all of us, Will. Now...I know 'tis better to receive than 'tis to give on one's birthday, but...would you write some more, an it please you Sir?"

Friday, April 16, 2010

WWW (Willy's Worldwide Web): Friend or Foe?

Recent, high profile, focus on the "authorship" issue lately has gotten
me thinking. With the new film "Anonymous" in the works (a film claiming our Will was incapable of signing his own name, let alone able to write ANY of the works attributed to him) how much of what James Shapiro says in his LA Times article
about the sea change in attitude toward the "unimaginable" has to do with

"A quarter-century ago all this was unimaginable."
..."What then accounts for the reversal?
emphasis]what has is our comfort level with conspiracy theory as well as our
eagerness to seek authors' lives in their works."

I think we can add to that the fact that anyone can "publish" nowadays--even me--who, a few years ago, would never have imagined myself sitting here in front of a computer penning this particular opine.

Granted, the web is of great benefit as an information tool. But how much does
Willy's Worldwide Web-benefit, and how much does it serve to MIS-inform?

"Opinion" can become "Truth" when the fervor to make it so is furnished so many
opportunities. This is particularly the case on the Web, where sound bites
become word bytes. And everyone knows how much truth can reside (or not) in a
sound bite.

I'm pretty sure of what I think about it. I think George Orwell was a
prophet. So great care should be taken with what we "publish"; the words we use, what we intend them to mean, and most importantly, the result we intend from the utility they afford us.

However ironically, sometimes free speech can be a deterrent to free thought, with or without the intention to use it that way.

What do you think? Is the WWW a friend or foe of Shakespeare?