The first time I told one of my friends I didn't like Shakespeare, I was not prepared for the reaction-which was a polite version of "you must be toothless white trailer trash, then." Dying cold, alone, and toothless in a trailer park is one of my fears (second only to dying cold and alone--except for my cat who is sitting in the shopping cart that I push up and down Hennepin Avenue) I gamely have tried to like Shakespeare. To no avail.
Rox: Aren't you supposed to talk about the play, Elle?
Elle: Jesus, you sound like a friend of mine-who informed me last night that she would not read one of our reviews to learn anything about the play we saw. I must say, I was a little insulted but I had had a couple of drinks and we were having a good time so... Okay, maybe she has a point.
Rox: And the point of this review is...?
Elle: The point of this review is to say that I wonder if everybody likes Shakespeare because educated people are supposed to like Shakespeare. But let's talk about this performance. Hamlet (Santino Fontana) was a nebbish. I wasn't impressed with most of the acting in the play, which reminded me of singing in Hebrew as I kid. I knew the words to the songs and had the translated version of the song to look at if I wanted, but how can you infuse meaning into words you don't know? That's what it felt like to me--that they were mouthing difficult words that they didn't really understand. Except for Ophelia's father, Polonius (Peter Michael Goetz). He was quite the silver tongued devil. Everything that came out of his mouth sounded natural. And because it didn't sound stilted, it was actually easier to understand.
And Rox, I know you can blame your boredom on ADD, but I don't have that excuse. But man, it dragged. I found myself mentally responding to what they were saying on stage, "So shuffle off your mortal coil, already" or when it got to the part where Hamlet says, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him," I started thinking about the time I sent my friend Dennis a doll head, smeared with dirt, and a little note with those words.
Rox: What the hell are you talking about?
Elle: Oh, well, see Dennis was building a giant sculpture made of baby dolls and I'd go around to all the thrift stores buying them for him. For some reason "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him" had been running through my mind for days so... Anyway, I suppose it means something that so many of the sayings in our common vernacular come from Shakespeare...
Rox: Like, people love Shakespeare?
Elle: Yeah. But I don't. I just don't. What did you think?
Rox: I wanted to wait a day or so to respond so you'd think I was dead. Thanks for not walking me to my car -- after you said you would. Four blocks in the slushy snow. In the dark. Do you know how lucky I am to be alive? Jesus, Elle. If this isn't the making of a modern day Shakespeare tragedy, I don't know what is! Friend betrayeth friend in thick of Loring night. O! Come nay! Slayeth in thine cold bed of snow blood ... Nay! So, apologize.
Elle: Sorry, Rox. I always forgot how much you hate walking in the dark. And I thought you were only a block away, not four. I really am sorry. Can we get back to the review?
Rox: Fine. During our first year of the MFA program, someone made the mistake of insisting that I teach Shakespeare to undergrads? What a nightmare. I've never had to act so well in my life. If ever the students had questions that couldn't' be answered open-endedly, I would volley the question right back to the class... "Gee, Tim, that's an excellent question... who can answer that? What are your thoughts about that?" Yikes. Needless to say, despite the fact that I had to cram "Shakespeare for Dummies" down my throat in preparation that summer, I still couldn't follow most of that semester, not to mention last night's play. That's not to say that it wasn't well done... I can hardly criticize something I don't really understand, nor can I blame the production for my deficit in attention... Still, I couldn't' wait to get home.
I don't know if it's as much of a language issue for me, as it is one of long-winded soliloquies. I can hang in there for, say, the first few stanzas, but after a while, I am no longer interested. As you said last night, "Kung Fu Hamlet" is more my speed too. Now, that's not to say that I don't enjoy long tragedies that explore the promising questions and conflicts paramount to Hamlet's longevity: To be or not to be; get thee to a nunnery; self-doubt and all the other themes upon which Hamlet sustains its loyal following. The thing is, these are interesting themes. The plot is not boring. So I'm verklempt. It leads me to think it was either an issue of my ADD or that it was, perhaps the production. At first I was really psyched to see the period take on the story, with all those men in suits and ties toting brief cases... I was intrigued right away. Though the opening seen was shockingly promising because of that twist on the timeline, the new and exciting wasn't sustained. Dare I blame Shakespeare? Do I blame Joe Dowling, Guthrie's acclaimed director? Or do I just blame myself? Or my culture? Hark! What troubled fodder I kindle over raked fire... Tell me, mine Ellenor, doth tone or truth make play the thing?
I thought Hamlet (Santino Fontana) did a fine job. In fact, it was Polonius (Peter Michael Goetz) who I had a hard time watching, only because of the signature snap-clap command he barked all over the stage. It was really annoying the 80th time. I thought everyone else was great, but my favorites were the gravediggers, Raye Birk and Richard Ooms. I wish the whole play could have been about them... wait, hasn't that been done? Or am I thinking of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who I found surprisingly annoying as well, but I think that was the point. Now, Elle, tell me, what did you make of the time period in took place in?
Elle: Hamlet was a nebbish-unless he was being funny. The time period seemed to be the 1930s, but what the point of that was, I don't know. Well, Rox, this is the last show we'll ever see it the Guthrie on Vineland Place. They're moving to the river and tearing the old Guthrie down. It's the end or an era, Rox.
Elle: It makes me sad. We'll just have to see if our relationship with the Guthrie can be salvaged now that everything has changed. I guess I'll just have to reframe my ideas about what the Guthrie has meant to me in its current location--just blocks away--and accept the new one in a new place, a different place, a place further from my heart.