9.12.06

Culture Vulture (part 2)

My next jaunt was to Chicago, home of the SLJSummit and Chicago Shakespeare Company. Having seen Rose Rage , I was anxious to see more. Luckily, two productions were in town when I was there, Two Noble Kinsmen and Hamlet.

I'd never really heard of TNK, much less read, studied or seen it. Hamlet, of course, I'd seen several times (including the Kenneth Branagh performance for the RSC). What's interesting about both is that they have two main female characters, one of whom must choose between loves and the other who goes nuts. TNK is considered a "collaboration" between Shakespeare and Fletcher, but what that means exactly I don't know. Was this a true collaboration? Did Fletcher fill in blanks? Was it a V.C. Andrews thing? Who knows? It ultimately doesn't matter. It's a good play, albeit short (about 90 minutes). The "nutty" female role in TNK is a much larger than that of Ophelia, which makes it interesting.

As a matter of fact, the Jailer's Daughter's madness was so much easier for me to believe than Ophelia's. Maybe it's the cynic in me, but I just never bought O's going nuts because Hamlet was so nasty to her. It's always felt much more like a hormonal adolescent depression than anything else, which is pretty universal and understandable but the outcome just never rang true. The only way I'd believe Ophelia's descent is if she was unstable to begin with, but that's never the way the character is portrayed.

Anyway, the space in which TNK was performed is interesting. It's a small space, with minimal wings - almost a black box. For this production, the stage was dominated by the jail structure, which slid in and out and around to great effect. I liked the minimal scenery, because you could really concentrate on the performances. And the boxer briefs that the Two Kinsmen wore throughout most of the first act.

Hamlet is a tragedy, right? Well, not all the time. There's humor in the script, and this production brought that out. No, it wasn't played for laughs and wasn't slapstick, it just acknowledged that there were moments there that helped relieve the tension. With the exception of Claudius (who managed to mumble many of his lines) the cast was wonderful. Again, there was minimal scenery, but there was lots of fog (particularly when the Ghost was around). With the exception of Ophelia (see above) this was one of the most realistic productions I've seen: less declaiming, less Drama, more "truth" to the scenario.

So, basically, if you ever get to Chicago and have time to see a CSC performance, I don't think you'll go wrong.

No real Culture for a while: next stop, Seattle Opera's Don Giovanni in January.

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