Sunday, December 2, 2007

Butoh Fu for The Ghost of Hamlet’s Flesh

Something is rotten in Denmark. Old Hamlet’s putrid flesh decomposes but will not surrender its ghost. Manifold earth would take the decomposing flesh as its own, but the flesh cannot surrender its elemental nature until the usurped monarchy is brought back into the natural order of the universe.

Old Hamlet rises as a frightful Frankenstein of disparate elements out of the bowels of the putrefied kingdom. As sovereign king on earth he summons all of nature to the place of his murder, the site where the natural order was usurped. At this Orchard of Crime, all flora and fauna begin to misbehave. Half-ripened fruit falls prematurely to the ground, fermenting into a stew of alcohol on which the bionetwork will feed. All of the court and Denmark will become drunk with the poison of the crime, but none so much as the son Hamlet, flesh of the flesh of the disintegrating realm.

Flesh in this usurped kingdom and unnatural world is no longer subservient. Old Hamlet/Claudius are the same flesh and blood. The kingdom is now ruled by the gangrene of this dual King, who is both living and dead. This dead and dying flesh must be amputated, purged and burnt away. The elements Fire, Earth, Air, Water convene to contain this rebellion of unholy flesh.

I am thy father's spirit, doomed for a time

To walk the night, and all the day

Confined in flaming fire,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of Nature

Are purged and burnt away



But the rebellious flesh will not surrender dominion over earth. The diseased family unit is the unholy trinity at the core of the kingdom. The Father, Son, and Unholy Ghost. Gertred animates not so much the dead king as the dead and dying gangrened flesh of the First Family.

The earth in the Orchard is moist, almost alive in the fermentation of the fallen, decaying fruit. Flesh would differentiate itself from the other elements. Wind/Air is breath. Rain/Water is saliva. Earth amalgamated with muddy flesh of fallen fruit. The moldering rot gathers its body together.

The body of many rises from the ground. The eyes look backward into the hollow head in an attempt to see the tail being pulled from the earth. Wind enters through the anus, swirls in the stomach, up through the throat, but cannot escape the mouth, returning back through the body. Moist humid air enters the mouth to become saliva. This water and air would gather into Fighting Words. This body cannot speak yet but may be able to Spit Nails in its anger.

Who has better teeth

The blood or the stone

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More Mike

Mike came back with some great analogies, although I would argue that those are precisely what make the play universal and enduring through the ages, and don't so much explain its heightened popularity these days in particular (if indeed that's even the case, as Mike himself queries). It's probably safe to say that teenagers have always been moody and rebellious and that heartbreak and hardship go way back.

And yet, there are other ways of looking at Hamlet’s appeal. One of the things about it that jumps out at me these days is its function as the archetypal dysfunctional family story. In a culture that has now been overrun by such tales, from Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to American Beauty and Little Miss Sunshine, no one does it better than Shakespeare. In a sense, Hamlet is the original moody goth; his mother and stepfather are the predecessors to all those beastly parents who’d rather spend the weekend dining at the country club than having quality time at home with the family.

The other aspect of Hamlet that stands out for me is its depiction of a man who is heartbroken by everything he holds dear to him - life, his family, his friends, his girlfriend, etc. The aggregate amount of misfortunes that fall on Hamlet’s head simultaneously short circuit both his ability to mend himself and his sense of social decorum. Politeness goes out the window as Hamlet lashes out at the world for his pain. Such emotions are familiar to anyone who has ever lost a parent, gone through a divorce, been dumped by a partner, or [insert your choice of hardship here].

The beguiling and awe-inspiring (and addicting) thing about the text that you learn over time is:

Of course, that’s just how I feel today. Ask me again tomorrow and I might say something different. But, as [Peter] Brook so astutely points out, whatever I say tomorrow would most likely be supported by the text.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Post Mortem

Over on nytheatre mike's blog, he queried today why Peter Brook called Hamlet “the greatest experimental work of all.” And, "What is it about this play that still compels us after 400 years?" And, more particularly, "Why is it on the mind of so many different theatre artists all the time right now?"

My response in his comment section:

Oh Michael, like the Ghost in Hamlet, I fear you’ve been sent by the devil to torture me. Just when I vowed to quit the play cold turkey -- I am under so much time pressure from other projects and the universe is begging me to move on -- you’ve delivered me back into its clutches at all hours of the night…

Background: I was in a production of the first quarto of Hamlet in July of 06, playing Gertrude and the Ghost. Was so gripped by it that I searched for a way to remount it. Meanwhile, I studied the play – after the first run I knew I had only scratched the surface. Took a class dedicated solely to it taught by a wonderful woman named Annie Occhiogrosso who has studied it for 30+ years and lost not an ounce of passion for it. Finally got accepted into the Brick’s Pretentious Festival this June. Was able to reassemble the entire team and rehearse for 6 weeks, beginning where we left off a year earlier, for a mere four-day run. (We’re the “of it” link in your “four/different/productions/of it.”) Wrote a blog during that time dedicated to dissecting it, to which I posted 64 entries in 2 ½ months ( Ended the one-year journey through it bereft and lonely at its loss, knowing it probably doesn’t have another life.

And now, like a voice from deep within me, you wanna know why. Keeping in mind that there have been centuries and piles and piles of smarter words than mine dedicated to this question, I’ll take a relatively off-the-cuff stab... Maybe because the play is all about deceit? Levels of complicit lies we tell? To others and, perhaps most importantly, to ourselves? Beginning with our inability to face up to the fact that we’re going to die and to act accordingly towards our fellow humans? About how hard it is to muster sincerity and honesty in our dealings with each other, even knowing we’re mortal? Even with the people we share our most profound life experiences with? Even with family? And this makes everyone ultimately lonely, whether they know it or not? And these things just become more nagging as we age, but only in proportion to the degree in which we’re capable of living an examined life in the first place.

As to why it is on the minds of so many different theatre artists all the time right now… I went to a reading recently by my friend Josh Furst. He’s got a novel coming out in a month. Afterwards, the audience was clearly moved. I told him how comforting it was to hear his words, which were powerful, complex, gripping inquiries into his characters’ souls. He knew of my post-Hamlet blues and how hard it was to explain them to anyone. He said, “Yeah, it’s a strange mood in the country these days. Not much into introspection.”

Saturday, June 30, 2007

~ The End ~ .....(or is it?)

It's been another great ride. And it's even harder to let go this time than it was last year. For one thing, the production is even more refined and nuanced. We found so much in this bottomless pit of a play. And of course there's less likelihood that we will get yet another chance to perform it. Yup, we're all pretty sad puppies right about now. But then again, who knows what lies ahead.

Union rules prevented us from recording the show. Which isn't all that sad because generally, unless you shoot with great cameras and from several angles, theater tends to look pretty awful on video.

So it'll have to live in our memories, until... (dare I hope???)

The final act... weeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Amazing how many scenes from Hamlet you can find on YouTube... But I love this one. Carefree, hormones raging, the pure joy of theater...

Saturday, June 23, 2007 review

A great review just came out... yay!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Here we are...

Wow, crazy... one day in the space with the platforms and the coffin, one cue-to-cue, one run through in costume and... tada... tomorrow we open. Then we'll have 3 more shows and it's over. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. But I suppose it's only fitting that the no-frills Hamlet gets the drive-through, or should that be drive-by?, production process. And besides...

This is our second time around, so it's not really true. In fact, I AM SO PSYCHED because everything I was dreaming about at the end of the run in July 06 -- the all but impossible -- HAS OCCURRED. Talk about feeling like this was meant to be (there goes that magical thinking again!):

- We found a way to produce the show again without paying an arm and a leg. God bless the Brick people and their incredibly generous spirits. As one of the early purveyors of the rat m.o. of theater production, it's totally thrilling to see the 'big cheap' ethic alive and well in NYC.

- We managed to reassemble the ENTIRE cast for this second go-around, albeit by the skin of our teeth, which made it feel even more meant-to-be. After everyone was contacted and there was unanimous excitement about the opportunity to remount the show, and everyone miraculously was free for a late June run (including the Pretentious calendar), Cynthia and Meghan pored over each of our copious conflicts 'til they were cross-eyed and managed to hammer out a reasonable rehearsal schedule.

- And most importantly, we got that rarest of opportunities to take an already great production of an awe-inspiring play and to continue to mine the depths of both, complete with Meghan and the rest of New World and Al and of course my anchor (inasmuch as I can ever get steady), Nick -- check out his butoh fu for The Ghost of Hamlet's Flesh. And then we managed to be further blessed with Amanda. It's always possible to do another production of Hamlet and I hope to some time. But this is an extraordinary group of people - disciplined, talented, big-hearted and FUU-UU-UNNNNNNNNNNN like you wouldn't believe. How often do you get that in one package, I ask you?!