On Sunday night I won tickets to see Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park. I used the “Virtual Line” option via publictheater.org, and I highly recommend it. I know at least one other person who won tickets Sunday on only his second attempt; it was my second attempt too. If you’re going to go see the show (or the second one this summer, Hair–I’ll definitely be there for that), go with the online option as your first choice, and if you don’t get tickets, show up at the theater a little bit before and see if they’ve got empty seats. The theater was maybe 75% full, and that was before the thundershowers at intermission.
The last time I saw Hamlet was a few years back in London, and it was not at all a good experience. I spent a sizable chunk of the performance fantasizing about how, if I for some reason had to jump onstage and conduct an impromptu fight scene, take out the most people in the least moves. After that production, I told myself this: “Hey, I don’t like Shakespeare. I mean, really. It’s not fun. Even when it’s good, which this production here in London is not, I don’t really like it much. At all.” So I decided not to go see Shakespeare anymore when I could help it.
And then the Public cast Claire Fisher as Ophelia, and I didn’t have much choice.
Claire Fisher = Lauren Ambrose of course, star of Six Feet Under. Claire Fisher also = my favorite female TV character of all-time, and maybe my favorite TV character of all-time, up there with Eric Cartman, Ryan O’Reilly, and 75% of the cast of The Wire. Last year, she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and I was in Cleveland, so I missed it. I knew I had to make time to see her in this. The thing I didn’t really consider was this: Ophelia has got to be the weirdest character in theater.
She does nothing. She wants nothing. She reacts. Constantly. And then she goes crazy. And that crazy scene lasts forever, but all she’s doing is singing doggerel and, in this production, drawing a grave in chalk (which is a pretty cool image). It’s not exactly the kind of role that highlights Lauren Ambrose’s talents, although there was one moment that almost made the whole thing worth it: when she leaves the stage for the last time, she says goodbye–and it’s haunting, and it’s deep somehow, and it changes her from crazy and completely lost to somehow aware of her madness, to somehow resigned to her fate and even in charge of it. I can’t really explain how she does it, but there’s this thing Lauren Ambrose does (she did it all the time in Six Feet Under, and she even did it in Can’t Hardly Wait, which is a super-underrated teen movie) where she throws levels of desperation underneath a tough exterior. This isn’t that, but it’s similar; she’s working in complexity to every word, even with a character that hardly offers opportunity to do so.
And it’s kind of funny that her final moment is the highlight of her performance here–if you’ve seen Six Feet Under all the way through you know that the final sequence of that show–built around Claire Fisher–is the best thing that happened on that show, and one of the best things that has ever happened on television. She comes up big down the stretch, which is not always the case with most actors and/or shows.
Ophelia is particularly interesting to me right now, because my friend Aya Ogawa is about to open her play Oph3lia at Here. I was around at the beginning of this piece a few years back (when we both, along with Christina Anderson) were Van Lier Fellows at New Dramatists. I’ve seen a few incarnations of the piece, and it’s kind of thrilling (especially in terms of stage pictures and choreography), but I’m going to have a different connection to heart of the play now after having seen Hamlet again.
I’ll write more about Hamlet in another post. The short of it is that I’m not sure how I feel about the lead performance or, for that matter, the whole thing. And it’s long. And it’s Shakespeare, which I don’t like. I’m not ashamed to admit it. BUT…if you don’t have a self-imposed Shakespeare ban, it’s worth checking out.