Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

New "Hamlet" is a puzzle

Cleveland Press August 10, 1972

Charles Marowitz' version Of "Hamlet" opened at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival last night and it is a game of who said what and when and what happened next.

Billed as a "collage version" of the well-known play, the description turns out to be an apt one. In art a collage is a work made up of bits and pieces pasted on a background. You can recognize a bit here, another there and some make sense and some don't and the whole effect is meant to be interesting and pleasing even though not recognizable.

In this version different characters speak each other's lines (sometimes), or the right characters speak the right line but out of turn (sometimes) and then again there are whole minutes when everything proceeds as normal (sometimes).

HAMLET is a poor fool in white face who swings from a rope. Gertrude is a sensuous woman who may have had a hand in the king's death. Ophelia is in little, girl's clothes but she's a hip-swinging wanton, mature beyond her years.

And Fortinbras. This ambitious man who comes marching in at the end is ever-present in the Marowitz version, an alter ego, an ambitious man who urges Hamlet on to action as Hamlet wavers, who wrestles with the Prince of Denmark to force him on.

As something with a plot this "Hamlet" is a shambles. That is left are many of the ideas that have been read into "Hamlet" for hundreds of years and perhaps a few that haven't.

The structure is so loose as to be non-existent. But there is logic in all this. Speeches are not scattered about without reason. In other mouths they have new meaning. Sometimes they are transposed for pure fun- "A hit, a palpable hit," cries Polonius as Hamlet kicks Rosencrantz (or is it Guildenstern?) in the seat of the pants.

Marowitz is involved as both director and playwright.

AS DIRECTOR he has been eminently successful. He has whipped his cast into a state of perfection. He has envisioned a myriad of stage business to go with his strange script. And it all adds meaning.

"Get thee to a nunnery," shouts Hamlet as he flings away both Ophelia and Gertrude following a scene in which his arguments alternated between them.

With script reinforced by direction there is no doubt as to Marowitz' concept of meanings in "Hamlet." Relationship between queen and prince is clearly incestuous. Did Claudius have something going with Ophelia? So it seems. And what about Hamlet and Ophelia? In this version, he rapes her.

Is this enjoyable as a play? (0nly if you know your "Hamlet." Half the fun is finding all that you recognize turned topsy-turvy. If you don't recognize it, where's,the fun?

As a play the Marowitz "Hamlet'" does not stand alone. Nor is it always the intellectual exercise it seems to be. It is puzzle fun, fairly pleasant, certain to be disconcerting to purists.

Like a collage in an art show this will be fun for what bits strike you as familiar or interesting. The way it is put together is intriguing but not memorable. At least it is blessedly brief.