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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"America's True National Theater" - Hamlet at the OSF

Regarding the title of this post, that was just too good a quote to pass up! I'm always ready for a  rave about this year's fabulous Hamlet:
America's true National Theater resides right now at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival under the leadership of Artistic Director Bill Rauch. Go now to see his extraordinary production of Hamlet. It’s as vivid, immediate, powerful, and emotional a production of Shakespeare as you are ever likely to experience—and it’s only running through October. - R. J. Cutler, of "The Buzz Board: Smart People Recommend" feature at Internet's The Daily Beast

This statement makes me very happy since I spent so many years a loyal follower of Arena Stage when I lived in DC and VA, and that has a special history and legacy too as American regional theatre. That's years ago though, and in fairness there's no comparison between the two theater companies. Arena put on several plays a year in succession; OSF runs even more plays in continual rotation! For me, theatre's happening right here now.

So this is national theater, he says. Whatever it is, every play is worth seeing, something special, to say the least, while this year's Hamlet is a Hamlet for a lifetime. It's that elusive "great theatre" that I've only experienced a few times in my life.

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Above, the stunning opening of the play. Staging! Below, Hamlet getting at the truth with Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern - wonderfully cast as girl buddies.

 OSF's  Hamlet: Last time I wrote about it I determined to see it again; now I've seen it again--and again, I'm so dazzled that it's hard to get the critical machinery cranked up even to explain why. So I think I'll try to get at least one more performance in and then maybe I'll be able to summon up the necessary distance to write about it critically. Sounds like a good reason to see it again, to me! Right now I'm too  much in love. Clue: Dan Donohue IS Hamlet. I'm now a confirmed fan of this extraordinary actor. I'd like to see another great OSF play this year, She Loves Me, again just to see his hilarious cameo as the waiter, but tickets are very hard to get. Deservedly so. Of course the production of Hamlet is far more than its lead actor and the rest of it is as good as he is. Shocking, contemporary, clear, with depths of wit that I've never seen before in a lifetime of Hamlets...

For example, here's a good blog post about the use of deaf actor Howie Seago (above, as the Ghost). I've seen him in a couple of plays this year and the way OSF does it, his deafness and sign language always make it seem as if that's exactly what Shakespeare had in mind. Everything in these OSF plays is clear and highly focused, bringing out the structures of the plays. As a bonus, the post referenced here also includes a vid of the Ghost scene from Kozintsev's "Soviet  Hamlet" - which was, up until this year, my favorite Hamlet ever.

I wonder if these stills really convey much about the production to someone who hasn't seen it yet. For me, of course, they have full fan value! Wish me luck in getting another ticket. So far I've seen it from far left, middle and from far left, front row; I've been trying to get a ticket from a different part of the theatre - but don't want to sit too far back. I did love seeing the faces up close, for this one. (Update - I did just snag two more, at member discount price, that look like very good seats, and neither where I've sat before!)

Ha - just saw this. I've heard legends of people seeing this production of Hamlet many times (a neighbor will have seen it five times; I just bought two more tickets and will see it four times). My physical therapist claims to know someone who's seen it something like 50 times. Left, From a Medford review: "Twelve-year-old Alex Ainsworth holds 97 ticket stubs from Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of “Hamlet,” which she’s accumulated this year alone in her trips to see the Bard’s play." She plans to see it 116 times by the time the run ends. I thought I was bad! I would be badder if I were richer. This is a girl after my own heart. I attended OSF at  her age and went on to be an English major and love the bard the rest of my life. The way she's going, she'll be the world's greatest authority on Hamlet at my age.


Dan Donohue, who has played many years at OSF, isn't being cast in one of next year's plays. I hope he doesn't stay away too long. What I wouldn't give to time-travel back to see him as Prince Hal here (and the full trilogy!) in the OSF of years past.

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[2011 UPDATE with good news! Blackstone Audio is producing an audio version of the play with the cast from the 2010 production.] Further update: you can hear a good portion from Act I online. It sold me and I picked up a copy the other day. It's too bad that they couldn't catch the wonderful scenes with Howie Seago as the Ghost, because it was sheer magic the way Hamlet's interpretation of the Ghost's signing the lines added a whole other dimension to the nature of the ghost and Hamlet's relationship to him. However the good news is that in the audio version, Anthony Heald plays the Ghost, and so it's apples and oranges, can't really compare the two, but they're all good!
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