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Hamletmachine

a Postmodern Multimedia
CATEGORY :
by Heiner Müller

COMPANY : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 2210

SHOWING : March 15, 2007 - March 18, 2007

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The world of the status quo gets trashed before our very eyes, turning the world of Hamlet upside down, inside out, and bass-ackward. Leave your expectations at the door as the actor playing Hamlet encounters his digital doppelganger in Müller’s deconstruction of modern reality. An Interactive Performance Laboratory production featuring interactive 3D computer animation, supported in part by a grant from the University of Georgia’s Ideas for Creative Exploration.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

'Tis a Pretentious Stew, Devoutly to be Missed
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
2.0
This is another already-closed production in 7 Stages “March Madness” series. Again, I had to debate posting this, chiefly because it was performed by UGA Theatre Majors just starting their careers, and I don’t want to discourage them. The fact is, I hated, hated, hated this play, and I’d be hard-pressed to write an analysis that doesn’t include a few rants or vents. But there is some stuff here I think deserves discussion, even if you missed the play (or resent my criticizing it).

To begin with, the urge was very strong to give this a “0” star rating (I disliked it that much). Two things pushed my rating up a couple notches. First, I recognized my own college pretensions in this production. When I was the age of these actors, I too confused obscurity with depth, cleverness with substance, and intensity with commitment. As much as I hated the show, I saw potential in all the actors, a willingness to go out on a limb for a project they obviously believed in. To criticize them for stuff I was just as guilty of … well, let’s just say that my own cognitive dissonance won’t let me give my youthful predilections a “0” rating. It wouldn’t be fair to rate them more harshly.

Secondly, the show ends with a truly incredible and theatrical image – an actress bound to a wheelchair with strips that were then taken to all sides of theatre behind the audience. The resulting image of straight line bindings all focused on a wheelchair-bound actress was, to say the least, compelling. Whether or not it invoked the idea or emotion planned is another story altogether.

As background, “Hamletmachine” is the work of German philosopher/playwright Heiner Muller. Following the suicide of his wife, he spent thirty years developing this work, a stream-of-consciousness meditation on life, death, politics, oppression, sex, love, Hamlet, technology and obsession. The script is reportedly only five pages long, leaving each production free to indulge its own subconscious dreams and whims. 7 Stages director Del Hamilton collaborated with the UGA theatre department to create this production, which clocks in at a seemingly endless 80 minutes.

Let me touch on a few topics that merit discussion.

First, though I’m normally open to “Stream-of-Consciousness” narrative, in this case, I found the psychological basis for it artificial and unconvincing. When it works for me, it’s because it opens a window into character traditional narrative fails to do. It shows how that character‘s mind associates, how it creates images, how the very randomness of chaotic thought gives us more information than a traditional plotline could. In this case, however, the subconscious on display is the playwright’s, not the character’s. “Hamlet” here is a tool, a mouthpiece for Muller’s ideological pronouncements (here given the gravitas of an “I’m-Revealing-to-you-the-TRUTH” deity). The chracters all have little (or no) similarity to their “Hamlet” analogs, and have little or no apparent character of their own. A more experienced cast may have given them individuality, even within the context of Muller’s vignettes. Here, though, it doesn’t happen. Here, it seems the actors go through each sequence, showing no character, showing no connection to the admittedly random events happening around them.

Not to be flippant, but I blame it on Jung. The program notes acknowledge Jung as an influence on Muller’s philosophy and vision. I’ve often found the archetypes and subconscious analyses of Jung to be prone to cliché and stereotype. It’s not about what makes the characters different, but what makes them the same. Theatre, even Stream-Of-Consciousness theatre, is best (in my mind), when it’s the differences that are manifest. It’s why we’re spending our time with these characters, characters who hopefully surprise us. To a Jungian, there should be no surprise. I have no background in psychology, so I suspect I’m oversimplifying this (or even getting it dead wrong). But to me, Stream-of-Consciousness writing before Jung (Joyce, Woolfe, Rimbaud, for example), is so much more compelling (and believable), than writers who are “influenced by Jung.”

Next, I found especially unconvincing the Video-Hamlet. Program notes, tell us this is the inactive part of Hamlet, a subconscious projection of his entropy. Leaving aside that the video construct is a bland and featureless computer simulacrum, he (it?) does little except sit and stare. Inactivity, yes. Meaning (or even an enlightenment of Hamlet), no. It soon became an irritating and pretentious distraction.

The use of a slide projector to beam images onto actors and wig heads was also pointless and badly planned. When the show stops dead so someone can focus the projector (or even direct other actors by name to move the wig head left ot right or up or down) is not an expression of subconscious imagery – it’s just bad stagecraft.

And, regarding those images – Marx, Lenin, and Mao as exemplars of those who fight “oppression of the innocent?” If it were meant ironically, I’d buy it, but here it’s dead(ly) serious – even if Muller meant it ironically, this production believes it with all its heart and soul.

Add to this, too easy references and too cliched rants (Television spews “nausea”, Gandhi and King as innocents trampled by oppression, Cola Cola as a soul-sucking evil) that we’ve seen before again and again and again. We get it! Cola is bad and fighting oppression is good. Why are you wasting time in your five-page script on this?

So, because I’ve run on long enough, let me summarize. “Hamletmachine” was a pretentious piece of intellectual masturbation. It thinks it’s saying something profund about mankind and life and death, but it is merely regurgitating old cliches, old stereotypes, and bland, highly forgettable dialog that’s artificially given the weight and importance of Revelations from on High. It was tedious, it was irritating, and it had the depth of a late-night dormroom debate.

I devoutly wish I had missed it.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Note: If a five-page script takes over thirty years to write, wouldn’t that be a sorta kinda indication that there is something not very substantial at its core, that the passion of the writer is coming from a need to be clever rather than from the subconscious, that changes just make it different and not better? Just a thought …


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Hey Brad by Parrott65
You know, with all of the reviews you put in, I'm beginning to wonder if you actually have a life. You must live in the theatre, hehehe.
Hey Parrott by Dedalus
If this ain't livin', call the undertaker now! :-)!!

-- Brad
by Sweet Babboo
This is what he does when he tells me he's cleaning out the gutters...I can't complain too much compared to what he MIGHT be doing.

Mrs. Dedalus
Ohhhhhhh by Parrott65
He's married. That explains it!!!! Hehehehe, just kidding.
Explains What? by Dedalus
I don't understand. Are you somehow implying that, because there's a wife at home, being at a play is a better option.

Parrott, Parrott, Parrott!

You're forgetting that I'm married to a lovely and talented Sweet Babboo. Nine Years and Still Honeymooning! (If you're confused about what that means, imagine a hand that never cramps.) What a concept!

And, of course, we'll (or at least I'll) be seeing three plays this weekend, so there'll probably be three more reviews next week.

Between me and you, it just doesn't get any better than this!

Have a nice weekend!

-- Brad (spouse of Babboo)
Brad Rocks! by one mans' opinion
I am not much for the commentary, as I have never commented before. But please Parrott and everyone else - Do go after Brad. You should be grateful he is here.

For someone to be as passionate as Brad to see the number of plays that he does is amazing.

The fact that he is able to continue to give even-handed, educated, entertaining and thoughtful reviews without showing any signs of becoming jaded or taking the experience of live theatre for granted is truly remarkable.

Friends, if there were more Brad Rudy's in the world live theatre would be a much better paying profession.

I know as a person with limited time and income these reviews are a valuable insight.

I think he should be congratulated not ridiculed.

But that is just, One Mans' Opinion.
Nobody's ridiculing him by Okely Dokely
They're just having a little fun.
Yeah it's all in fun and humor by Parrott65
Brad, Mrs. Brad, and I are just having a couple of joking jabs at each other. We're just having some friendly fun. Anyone that knows me enough knows I'm a theatre junkie myself :)
Ammended Comments by Dedalus
I closed this review rather harshly, mostly to let off some steam and to be oh-so-clever with my "Devoutly to be missed" "Hamlet" allusion. In truth, as I said at the start, I do have a bit of affection for the production -- It didn't so much remind me of my own pretentious college days as let me vicariously relive them. Who doesn't enjoy that! And that final image was astounding (would that it carried any relevant subtext or emotional weight).

In any case, and to digress, thank you so much for your kind words, One-Man's-Opinion. Reading that really made my day last Friday. For record, I did take Parrot's comments as good-natured ribbing, but then, I'm told I can be rather clueless at recognizing an insult when it comes my way. :-)

Have a great week, everybody!

-- Brad


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