Page 8-The Michigan Daily - Friday, September 29, 1989
Slings and arrows of intensity
Two Hamlets and technology combine in Hamletmachine
BY JAY PEKALA
AMID the enormous scaffolding
and fencing gridwork which sur-
rounds the stage and seats of the
Trueblood Theater, performers appear
as parasites in a desolate urbanism.
Hamletmachine begins as actors
hurl themselves at a chainlink fence
standing directly before the audience.
The whole play is viewed through
this fence - perhaps a comfort to
spectators that they will not be
sucked unwillingly into the macabre
festivities. In a burst of aggression,
the eight actors run toward us and
thrust themselves onto the fence as
if to collectively topple the barri-
cade. Act one commences, and the
next 90 minutes are a collage of im-
pressions centering on the 20th cen-
tury's conflict of thought and action,
highlighting the struggle between
University Productions opens its
season with a grotesquely beautiful
and provocative vision of East
German playwright Heiner Muller's
Hamletmachine. Muller describes
his play as a "self-critique of the in-
tellectual," as well as a post-
Communist rethinking of the
Hamlet character. Within its mere
six pages are found many Daliesque
images - a woman dangling from a
rope, a blood-oozing refrigerator, a
Madonna with breast cancer - all of
which director Arnold Aronson and
his designers and actors have strik-
In many ways, Hamletmachine
is an elaboration of Shakespeare; so
many images lead us to reconsider
issues of Shakespeare's original
work. In Aronson's play, Polonius
impales himself on a sword stuck
out from behind the plastic arras,
Hamlet kisses his mother tenderly
on the lips and then mimes the sex
act over her prostrate body, Hamlet
wears Ophelia's dress and makeup
and then follows Horatio's lead in
waltzing around the stage. Each im-
age raises an interpretation that may
have gone unnoticed in viewing the
Director Aronson provides two
Hamlets: a classic one with dark hair
and thin beard wearing a gold-
trimmed black doublet, and a modern
one with hanging reddish curls in a
loose black shirt imprinted with a
large gold pattern.
Both Hamlets are eloquently
played by Ken Weitzman and Jon
Casson respectively, yet both inten-
tionally do little more than passion-
ately emote. Their sweat-streaked
words are more show than tell. By
the fourth act, Casson's lengthy
monologue and costume change into
jeans nearly go unnoticed as he
stands atop a freight elevator at the
back of the stage. More interesting
are the three television screens
perched on the scaffolding; they
show scenes of revolution and "daily
nausea" as well as a live video image
of the audience shot by an actor car-
rying a video camera.
In contrast to the Hamlets,
Ophelia - whose entrance is marked
by actors kicking doors open to let
cold air sweep through the theater -
is a woman of action. Bela Peixoto
portrays Ophelia as a tormented, an-
gry figure, her heart represented by
an alarm clock hung on the fence and
amplified by a microphone. The
ominous ticking and rush of cold air
stand as preludes to Ophelia's
"madness." Pouring a chalice over
her head and smearing the red over
her white dress, hanging from the
fence as she crawls across it, remov-
ing her clothes in an eerie, unerotic
striptease for Hamlet - all these Mao, Marx, and Lenin turn up Hamletmachine, a post-modern rendition of
images have more impact than any- Shakespeare's Oedipal opus. Blame it on class conflict.
thing Hamlet does. Ophelia epito- feminist themes over the socialist help to hold the piece together even,
mizes social change in her very be- ones." though they may not know the.
ing, and it is she who is bound at In directing the production, source." In sculpting his impression.
the end of the play, made inactive. Arnold Aronson wanted to construct istic play, Aronson has drawn unique
Implications in the final image of images that would in turn evoke and often daring performances froma
two men in lab coats wrapping a other images. He said, "The play has his actors. With the able assistance
shouting Ophelia vividly aid to work subconsciously. The audi- of choreographer Chris Goetsch, seta,
Aronson's intent to "emphasize the ence will recognize quotations which SeeMACINE. nee 9
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