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HAMLET

excerpted from an article by Mark Czarnecki which also reviewed The Wooster Group

A collaborator with The Wooster Group has been Richard Foreman, who in a recent interview called it “the one group in New York as interested in getting in trouble as I am.” As an admirer of Foreman who acknowledges his influence, DNA’s artistic director Hillar Liitoja clearly shares that interest. Trained as a classical pianist, he abandoned that career when he discovered Ezra Pound’s poetry, whose fragmented, imagist style has contributed to DNA’s unique theatrical language.

Touted as a “nine-hour Hamlet” – it’s really only seven and a half – this environmental production is daring, entertaining and surprisingly polished considering its large cast and minimal budget. The set fills the entire Theatre Centre, and the audience walks around and through it as the action swirls around them. Freedom of movement is necessary in such a long production, and also provides a kaleidoscopic perspective that mirrors the sharp excisions and repetitions in Liitoja’s idiosyncratic text.

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, but Liitoja’s basic premise is it’s actually too short. By dedicating a full day to it, he gives his vision, his actors and his audience a chance to stop worrying about jolts per minute and to restructure time. Liitoja has focused on five or six seminal scenes: several involve Ophelia (the graveyard scene takes half an hour without the gravediggers); and another repeats five times a 100-line section in which Hamlet mocks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

On the other hand, “To be or not to be” is addressed to Horatio so softly and privately that barely anyone hears it.

What Liitoja has added is just as important as what’s left – or left out. Above all there’s the music, a compelling and often deafening melange drawn mainly from arch-romantics Bruckner and Sibelius which underlines the intense emotion saturating Liitoja’s interpretation. This Hamlet is really a symphonic score, with visual and aural motifs elaborating on basic themes (food, lust, secrets, betrayal) stated and restated throughout.

 Typical is a female samurai who at the start performs a precise sword dance, and returns halfway through to cook a fish. Apparently random, her presence nevertheless creates a measured counterpoint to the frenzy of the main action.

 The performances, many exaggerated almost to caricature, are stunning: Sky Gilbert as Claudius is a treat in boots and leathers, Kirsten Johnson’s Ophelia redefines stage madness and Andrew Scorer makes up in physical presence and subtlety what his Hamlet lacks in words. For anyone passionate about theatre’s power to explore possibilities and expand consciousness, DNA’s Hamlet is not to be missed.

Metropolis
Jan 26, 1989