So, last night I saw a play known as Hamlet. Depending on how well you know me, that may or may not make sense… but, in case you didn’t know, I am NOT a fan of live theater OR Shakespeare. Yes.. and I’m an actor ;). Theater, like books, is simply not able to provide the complete escapism that movies do. Acting is kind of a silly thing, really, when you see it being done right in front of you, so beyond the realism that stage-work simply can’t obtain, I think that’s another factor of my disinterest. As for my take on Shakespeare, well… I just prefer to understand what characters are saying :).
So, if a live show of Shakespeare ain’t my cup o’tea, why did I make this venture? Well, my new BFF, Mary, is in the show, and asked me to come – and therefore I did. I knew a few of the basic elements of the story of Hamlet: dead king, new king, revengeful prince, crazy Ophelia, plenty of death. Beyond some of the more famous lines, and a BIT more story depth than I just wrote, I really didn’t know much else. I also never studied Shakespeare, so I’d have little clue as to what was being said. I didn’t read up on Hamlet, though, and figured I’d make an interesting challenge of it. If theater is supposedly (according to some) the purest form of acting, I’d just take my cue from the performances. Sort of like watching a foreign movie without subtitles, I gave myself an interesting experience – I tried to gauge what was being said by how it was being said.
It mostly kinda worked :).
I had been warned, beforehand, that this wasn’t “normal” Hamlet, and that it’s a little “weird”. I never see plays and I never see Shakespeare, so I figured the whole thing would be weird to me, anyway ;). The Doghouse Theater is actually a private residence – it’s in someone’s home. The director’s home, actually. With all of the furniture moved out of a long rectangular living/dining area, folding chairs lined the walls facing the center of the room. It was an interesting set-up, with the audience not all facing a singular stage up front, but surrounding it from all sides. Since we were all within feet of each other and the actors, there wasn’t exactly room for lavish stage decoration, and when the performance DID start, all of the actors were present the whole time… there was no “back stage”. When a character wasn’t in a scene, they would simply stand out of the way of the other performers or sit in specially marked chairs among the audience. Like I said, it was interesting, but what I didn’t like about it was that so much performance was lost. When an actor was speaking on one side of the room, to watch them meant that I had to ignore the actors on the other side of the room. In a normal, up-front presentation (stage, TV, movie screen), every performer is at least in the audience’s peripheral view – so even though there may be focus on one or two actors, anyone can be watched with a simple glance, as opposed to a full head-turn as it was at Doghouse. As for the costuming and direction, it felt like the cliche of “weird, avant-garde actors being crazy in a strange LA play”. That’s not a personal knock on the show, but a comparison; whenever you see a “strange, theatrical actor” in a sitcom… this is how they portray it: over-the-top and something a general audience would consider odd.
That was their style chosen, though, as the warning of it being “weird” came to me in an “a-ha!” moment right at the beginning. With the theatricality and strange nature of the presentation, though, I actually found it hard to judge most of the performances. Hamlet was played pretty darn crazy… crawling around, constantly cracking up as a madman in a straight-jacket. The rest of the group was much more tame, and since I haven’t really a clue as to how these characters are “supposed” to be… I just took it as it was :). I CAN say, though (without bias, I promise), that Mary Emfinger as Ophelia was a pleasure to watch. She later said that she felt as if she was having an off night, but the gal can play adorable/crazy very well, along with her very natural ability to pull an emotional reaction out of her pocket at the drop of a hat… but I think we need to get her into some more sane characters before she gets typecast or ACTUALLY loses her mind ;). I also rather enjoyed watching Michael Cappelli as Claudius. He looked terrified and nervous for most of the performance, and naturally so, and that he didn’t take it into an overly-theatrical place impressed me. It can take a lot of energy to be really over-zealous with a performance over that length of time, but I think it actually takes more energy to bring yourself JUST to that place of reality… and then maintain.
The Doghouse Theatre’s Hamlet, isn’t exactly what I’d normally consider for my choice of entertainment, but I had a fun time. There were some moments that found me smiling (sometimes confused as to whether a certain absurdity was intended to be humorous, or I was just a slack-jawed yokel not “getting” experimental art), and some of the performances were rather fun to watch. Plus, anytime an actor starts singing The Doors’ “People Are Strange” in a performance, it has to at least be OKAY, right? 😉 I’m refraining from assigning a letter grade on this review, not because I know someone involved, but because I don’t really know Shakespeare and I went to this show to support a pal. If you know and like Mary (and how could you not, if you know her), I know she’d love to see you there. Plus, she just might hand you a flower during the performance or go eat Mexican food with you after the show. Maybe :).
P.S. – If anything, you could always go just to see the very FIRST “cathead” in person on the wall of the Theatre…