Signal Ensemble Theatre at Chopin Theatre (see Fringe & storefront). By William Shakespeare. Dir. Ronan Marra. With Christopher Prentice, Meredith Siemsen, Erin Myers, Don Bender.
In the film world, studios will remake a successful film a dozen times, almost always by bringing something new to the story: a modernized script, a new location, a transplant to another culture. But if a director chooses a truly faithful recreation—Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, say—critics and audiences alike revolt. “What’s the point?” they cry.
I’ve always wondered what makes theater so different from film in this regard. Yes, theater is live and ephemeral, and we can’t go back and experience Barrymore’s Hamlet like we can Perkins’s Bates. But in terms of choosing a season, what makes a company like Signal choose to do yet another perfectly straightforward Hamlet? It’s not that we want it set on the moon; we’d never argue that if you’ve seen one Hamlet you’ve seen them all (except when you have: Prentice already played the Dane, in this very building, just a few years ago). But unless you’re a keeper of the flame like the Royal Shakespeare Company, why bother with Hamlet if you’ve nothing new to say?
Since Marra doesn’t bring anything new to the table, all we can do is compare the performances to those we’ve seen before. Prentice’s sweet prince is hot-tempered and unusually wry (and in terms of the eternal debate, this Hamlet is just playing mad, whereas Myers’ Ophelia isn’t interesting until she goes mad). Siemsen is a sympathetic Gertrude, though perhaps that’s helped by Bender’s non-threatening Claudius, who never seems too interested in politics or power, making Hamlet’s railings against him seem like overkill. Against his blandness, the lad protests too much.—Kris Vire