Wednesday, September 26, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Slings & Arrows

Though we hear Hamlet's speech, we don't see it. Instead, the camera pans across the reactions of the characters backstage, watching from the side. First is Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney), the putative "Claudius" in the meta story (S&A's plots always take a great deal of inspiration from the play the characters are staging... the play outside the play, if you will), and though he would have "sold out" and turned the festival into an American-style theme park with a strong focus on mainstream musicals, the play has really grabbed him by this point. The moment is well-chosen, with the play's Claudius experiencing a crisis of faith on stage.

But it's the group pictured above that is most touching. Nahum (Rothaford Gray) is an African immigrant who works as the theater's custodian who sees the play for the first time, with fresh eyes. He comments that "fate plays with our Prince", which confuses the other actors. His explanation (that Hamlet cannot kill the king while he prays) is what we've always known. Like those actors, we know the play left and right. There are no surprises on this order anymore. Except there must be. At one point, we must have seen the play for the first time (unless we were told about it, which I'm afraid happens a lot in this universe of Cliffs Notes and Wikis and popular media referencing everything). At one point, we must have been like Nahum, experiencing the play's twists and turns for a first, joyous time. It makes Kate (Rachel McAdams) smile broadly, and in that moment, we're all seeing Hamlet as if for the first time.

I always discover new things in Hamlet, but by now, they're small things. Lines, images, new ways of reading or staging a moment, or inferences. Nahum's reaction is each of those moments writ large. And since Slings & Arrows is about the actorly work of discovering a play and its characters so that you may inhabit them, it's that as well.

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