If, as Hamlet says, “The play is the thing,” then why do so many feel the need to adapt Shakespeare’s scripts so much?
According to Jon Tracy, the director and adaptor of Marin Shakespeare’s season opener, Hamlet (their first full post-pandemic production), it’s because while Shakespeare is a mirror to nature, it is necessary to “correct the focus” for modern times. Tracy has heavily adapted the well-known play into a high-concept retelling that is actually lacking in focus. The show runs in San Rafael through July 16.
This reviewer attended the final preview and not the opening performance. A preview is considered a rehearsal and should be viewed in that light and with that grace.
To begin, there is obviously a lot of talent at work here. From the opening, one is clearly watching highly-trained actors looking for the truthful nuance in Tracy’s fever dream of a script. Of note is the funny and fully-embraced Polonius as performed by Richard Pallaziol.
Also deserving of accolades is Lady Zen, who plays the Clown King. When “speaking the speech” as written by the Bard, they are electrifying. It’s unfortunate that Tracy has decided to strip the most famous speeches from this character and replace them with songs that are, while admittedly beautifully performed and stunningly eerie, hard to follow.
Nina Ball’s set is a great use of minimalist space, and Ben Euphrat and Lady Zen’s soundscape is highly innovative and well-realized.
The costume design by Miyuki Bierlin and Luisa Frasconi is problematic, as it contains many flashy, eye-catching and odd elements that don’t quite work. For example, Queen Gertrude is always dressed as if attending an awards ceremony, even in her bedchamber.
High-concept Shakespeare is a rite of passage for theater artists, and Hamlet has always been the siren call for those wanting to leave a mark on the theatrical landscape. The question is how far can one adapt a play before they have left that play behind and, for better or for worse, created something completely new?
In this case, one is left wondering why they sold tickets to Hamlet and not to Jon Tracy’s Millennial Drugs and Murder With Puppets, because here’s the really important thing—if the tickets had said Jon Tracy’s Millennial Drugs and Murder With Puppets, this would have been a phenomenal mixture of performance art that borrowed heavily from Shakespeare, interpretive dance and physical theater.
The one thing it’s not is Hamlet.
‘Hamlet’’ runs Thurs-Sun through July 16 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University of California, 890 Belle Ave., San Rafael. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 5pm. $15-$40. 415.388.5208. marinshakespeare.org.