What a Piece of Work is Hamlet

In the Drilling Company’s Hamlet, staged as their Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot offering this summer, there is great drama being presented. Not only are there the conflicts between Hamlet and the rest of the Danish court, but there is also the real world drama of the conflict between an actor’s voice and a car rushing by or a helicopter overhead. Watching this play from the comfort of a lawn chair in a municipal parking lot on the Lower East Side is a unique experience, to be sure. For those looking for a definitive production of the Bard’s text, this is probably not the production to see. It is at times difficult to understand (both to hear and to follow) and there are many odd choices made here. If, however, what you are after is an opportunity to experience the play and to enjoy the New York City summer night, then this production is well worth your time. It is very pleasurable to be confronted with Shakespeare as you watch the city move by around you. The classic revenge drama is staged in such a manner as to cleverly incorporate its parking lot surroundings. A street lamp is placed in the center of the action, both to illuminate the stage action once the sun has set and as a platform on which the actors may climb. The brief moment in which an actor takes advantage of this lamppost is one of the highlights of the production. In a piece with such a special setting, it is hard not to wish that director Hamilton Clancy had incorporated the surrounding environment more. What would it mean if Hamlet were taking place in a literal parking lot? What might that setting do to the meaning of the plot(s) unfolding?

Instead of attempting to answer these questions, the company seems to be using their locale as a forum for presenting Shakespeare at no cost to whoever wishes to stop by and hear it, which in and of itself is a very noble cause. Hamlet is one of the greatest plays in the English language and for those who may have no other chance to hear it performed live, this production is entirely worth taking advantage of. There is real heart in what the performers do here; it is clear that much effort has been put into this production and the actors perform the lengthy play with much zeal and zest.

There are many alterations to the text that are hard to justify. For instance, instead of opening the play with guards on watch, the play opens with a famous speech by Hamlet. By having the play start with Hamlet, the director is entirely reframing the context of the action. Although this is an acceptable choice–and similar to what many other contemporary directors have done with the play–these cuts and rearrangements detract from the overall impact of the play’s meaning. Rather than being a larger rumination on certain human issues, this production seemed much more concerned with the unfolding of the basic revenge plot.

In addition, many production choices are distracting. It is hard to place whether this production is meant to be a contemporary rendering of the play or a period piece; some actors wear what appears to be mid-twentieth century apparel while others are more casually attired in modern dress. There are also many unnecessary props on stage. Yet, at moments in which a prop would be useful, an actor would mime an object.

That being said, the stage design is fine overall, and the configuration of benches and sheet that create the grave is ingenious. The actors utilize the space well, making an effort to be seen on all sides of the audience. Unfortunately, I found the performers were often quite difficult to hear over the ambient noise of the city surrounding them. Some actors chose to shout over the sounds; this often took away from the larger impact of their performances. Hamlet, for example, played by Alessandro Colla, often seemed angry, as there was extensive effort put into projecting the voice above the din of city life. That being said, the Hamlet that he created was overall interesting to watch and sympathetic. The supporting cast, too, gave a laudable presentation of these oft-performed lines.

All in all, the joy of watching Shakespeare come to life in the unlikely location of a pay-to-park lot off of Delancey Street outweighs any possible flaws with this production. Witnessing this performance in this unlikely locale is a special occurrence and one worth taking advantage of before the transformative magic of the theater vanishes and the city goes back to its regularly scheduled business.

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