I didn't know what to expect when entering the MET Theatre to see Hamlet. The set was minimalist, and when the lights came up, the characters spun dramatically to music in strobe lights. First impressions indicated that this was going to be a loose adaptation, with an emphasis on physical theatre. To my surprise, the entire play clung faithfully the original dialogue. But purists they are not. Hamlet clutched his asthma inhaler during outbursts, was too big to button his too-tight overalls, and spits profusely when he talks. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were not male cohorts, but coquettish girls in Catholic School outfits. These twists were fresh and subtle, not at all forced.
The cast consisted mostly of very strong actors. The most outstanding performances didn't even occupy the main roles. Of note, was Tim Halligan. As Polonius, he inadvertently stole every scene he was in. Portraying the classic fool, he had entire conversations with himself, and carried out the most oblique plans, and had the audience howling with laughter all the while. His strength is that he has created an entire life and relationship with his character that transcends anything on the written page.
The audience was in extraordinarily great company when Hamlet befriended a group of "players" or actors. They illuminated the stage in festive costumes. Limber and strong, they danced, sang, and posed in ways that mirrored a hallucinogenic Cirque Du Soleil. The role of Horatio is not a large one, yet is imperative. Actor Rob Kruse knew this, and in effect, his performance was simple and earnest. His devotion to Hamlet was not overacted, but subtle and strong, as were the performances of the two night watchmen.
I was thankful not to see any howling in overdone English accents, especially during the famous scene where the gravedigger reveals his 'friend' the skull. Director John Farmanesh-Bocca knew just when to pull back so that the scenes stray from any oversimplified versions seen so many times before. No pregnant pauses at "To be or not to be" either. The fencing in the play rarely looked orchestrated, denoting hard work behind the scenes to train these actors to create realistic-looking battles. Almost every click of the sword sent shivers.
All in all, with the strong acting, and well-choreographed fencing and dancing, this production is well worth the trip. The Met is a long-established and award-winning theatre in Los Angeles. With their attention to detail and excellent casting, it's no wonder they've been in business for over thirty years. In terms of Los Angeles Theatre, that's almost historical.
Photos by Photo by Dawn Davis