Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre seems to be the resident visiting theatrical troupe at The Broad Stage. They’ve presented several inventive annual productions with cast members playing multiple roles and simple stage sets flexible enough to represent many different locales.
Their production of “Hamlet,” onstage through Sunday at The Broad Stage, is no exception.
Before the play begins, actors move through the house and come out from the wings, prepping props, mulling about onstage, chatting with one another. Houselights remain on throughout the show, a tradition that stems from the original open-air Globe theatre with plays performed in daylight.
This opening is the last thing you’d expect in a performance of oh-so-despondent Hamlet: accordions and a raucous song to grab your attention. It does.
This is a rapid-fire, youthful, freshly directed version of the tale of the dark Dane, replete with a youthful blond, practically punky Hamlet (Michael Benz), the only actor playing just one role.
There’s a real edge in watching Hamlet’s father’s murderer Claudius (Dickon Tyrrell) — the uncle who usurped Hamlet’s father’s throne and married his mother — also appear as Hamlet’s father’s ghost who, in a visitation from beyond the grave, reveals to Hamlet the dread deed his brother has committed.
A traveling troupe of players is passing through Elsinore. At Hamlet’s direction, they will perform the play-within-a-play, “The Murder of Gonzago” mimicking the murder Claudius committed, with Tyrell now appearing as the Player King.
Scene shifts are signaled by the opening and closing of a red curtain, alternating quickly between the action on the stage and the audience reactions of King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother (Miranda Foster), all played by the same actors.
“The play’s the thing/wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” Hamlet explains, and he’ll be watching the reactions of his uncle and his mother to confirm their murderous guilt.
So many lines from Hamlet have made their way into clichés and common parlance, but they’re given new energy in this production. Language is key in Shakespeare and as my companion noted, verbs are often emphasized under the direction of Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, making the 400-year-old text fast and conversational.
From a critical perspective, while language is brilliantly rendered, it doesn’t always translate into an emotional connection with the characters. But as is the custom with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, their version of “Hamlet” is nothing like others you may have seen; that alone is reason worth going.
You have just five more opportunities to see “Hamlet” at The Broad Stage; there are matinee and evening performances Friday, Nov. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 24, and a final Sunday matinee. Get details here thebroadstage.com/Hamlet or call the box office at (310) 434-3200.
There’s more Shakespeare in store at The Broad. The Fiasco Theatre Company’s production of “Cymbeline” is described this way: “Poisoning, beheading, cross-dressing, and betrayal become fresh and frisky thanks to Fiasco Theater’s inventive production of the epic romance ‘Cymbeline.’”
Interesting that they call it a romance; most scholars put “Cymbeline” into the category of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” The plot is too complex to summarize, but Fiasco’s twist — turning a problem into a romance — is a good hook. In their program notes, they explain that, “Only artists brave enough to risk a fiasco can create the possibility of something special.”
Sounds good to me, I’ll be in the audience to find out, Dec. 13 through Dec. 23 at The Broad Stage. thebroadstage.com/Cymbeline or call the box office at (310) 434-3200.
The first hint that this is a kind of film you’ve never experienced before comes during the opening shot of Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors.” We see a movie audience, sitting in the dark, from the perspective of the screen, hinting that whatever follows will be as much up to the viewer as the filmmaker. Is the movie watching us?
It’s one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, but like a poem, seems to come together the longer I let it seep into my subconscious.
“Holy Motors” is “about” — if such a word can be used here — an actor, Mr. Oscar (the amazing Denis Lavant) who appears in character in actual locations throughout Paris, creating makeup, hairpiece and wardrobe changes in the back of a white stretch limo piloted by his driver and aide, Celine (Edith Scob), who also hands him his “assignments.”
The characters are fantastical, surreal, comical and heartbreaking, from a hunched-over, ragged beggar, to an actor performing on a CGI stage, to a character named Merde (from an earlier Carax film) who kidnaps a model mid-shoot, making for a head-scratching through-line. Later we see and hear singer Kylie Minogue with a sorrowful ballad about the opportunities missed in life.
It’s an evocation of imagination, the actor’s trade, the stories common to both movies and life, the passage of time and death.
Don’t try to approach this film logically; just suspend your disbelief and succumb to it. It’s at Landmark’s Nuart in West Los Angeles. Call (310) 473-8530 or check showtimes here: www.landmarktheatres.com.
Venice West Poets
At last Friday’s “Waiting for Jack” at Beyond Baroque, one of the more touching moments took place when Pegarty Long, a longtime photographer of the Venice Beat scene, appeared onstage to read her late twin sister Philomene Long’s poems. Philomene and her beloved husband, John Thomas, were two of the best-known and most-loved of the Venice West Beat poets, and Pegarty frequently chronicled their lives and those of other artists with her images.
“Waiting for Jack,” loosely hosted onstage by Rex Weiner and writer Michael C. Ford, is a homage to a legendary 1950s Beat poetry reading. In this incarnation, some of Venice’s own Beat poets are honored, including Bob Kaufman, the only black Beat poet with a Jewish name, read by Theida Salazar; and Charles Bukowski invoked by performer Doug Knott. In a rousing conclusion, Marc Olmsted brought out the full force and fury of Allen Ginsberg.
There’s one more performance on Dec. 7. Tickets are just $10 — http://beyondbaroque.org/events.html.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.