Sunday, November 12, 2006

I Be You Be to Be Not to Be

Along with some friends, we went to see "Hamlet: Blood in the Brain" at the Intersection in San Francisco last night. It is a "reimagining" of Hamlet: the text is all gone, replaced by gritty "real talk" -- jivey, fast and pungent -- from the streets of black Oakland, where the play is set. You might say the new play skims across the surface of the original Shakespeare, some plots points fitting one to one, some not at all, but enough correspondence so that you keep the original in mind.

Our friends didn't like it. This morning one wrote:

I think I'm the only one who hated it, actually.

Moscone's direction was brilliant as usual. The acting was pretty good. Great Gertrude. Hamlet and Ophelia were the weakest, though it was hard to tell what of Hamlet's awkwardness was Hamlet and what the actor. And the play's language had strong rhythms.

But...every 4th word was shit, every 10th word was motherfucker. If there was a good line, it was drowned out in hiphoppery. I hate this kind of dialogue and it was pure torture for me. I was ready to bolt after 5 minutes (once I figured out that, no, it was not going to get any better). Then I realized there would be no intermission.


And I wrote:

For what it was, we enjoyed it. It may be a "man thing" to find a kind of poetry in rants filled with obscenity/scatology. After a while, certain words become somewhat ... denuded ... of meaning. I suppose it creates a kind of baseline of disrespect for authority.

That actually is the most interesting part of the subtext of the deviation of this hiphop Hamlet from the old one: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

That is certainly one way to stage a Hamlet, to create a production in which Danish court society is presented as something out of Fellini's "Satyricon," the balance point of the play being nudged from the notion that the murder of Old Hamlet unbalances the state to the notion that the murder and young Hamlet's inability to set things right -- Law and Order: Elsinore -- is the inevitable manifestation of a state that is already unbalanced, diseased, flawed.

I would assume this is the standard Marxist staging of the play? That's how I read "Blood in the Brain." Oakland is a sewer of drugs and violence, and the destruction and self-destruction in the new play are the inevitability. The world is diseased, and Hamlet -- H., as he is called -- is doomed from the start.

So I thought it was quite clever, and as it so often the case, the execution brought more pleasure than the raw idea. Also, knowing the original play makes one feel more secure during those parts of the play where the problem was not the content but the pace and articulation of the dialogue. That is, I couldn'understandad it, though I could more or less follow it. But isn't that why Brando mumbled his way through "The Godfather"? It made people pay attention.

A final note: We live in Oakland.

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