but Not There
by Claudia Bruce, Linda Mussmann and Gerald Stoddard; music
by Claudia Bruce and Gerald Stoddard; directed by Linda Mussmann
Time & Space Limited Warehouse, through
(Gerald Stoddard) plays chess with himself at a raw wood table
mid-centerstage, a green-shaded lamp swaying back and forth
directly overhead. Shadows swing wildly around the theater
in time with the lamp as Hamlet’s image is projected digitally
onto the fragmented mock movie screen—three white roll-up
window shades upstage center. White sheets are stretched over
the walls of the stage, and a character flow chart is angled
toward the audience downstage left. There are plenty of white
spaces around the stage to fill with images.
The audience simultaneously watches Hamlet talk to the chess
pieces live and, from a different angle, on the three-panel
screen, where Hamlet’s face is fragmented by the three-inch
gaps between the panels. The effect is like watching a concert
live and on a huge video screen, all while on hallucinogens.
Then the black-cowled ghost of Hamlet’s father (Claudia Bruce)
enters, and the video screens show the scene in negatives—the
blacks white, the whites black—and the ghost asks the question
all sons hate: “Do you love your father?”
It’s hypnotic, and, to steal from Austin Powers, it’s hip.
but Not There, TSL’s two-person, multiple-character, multimedia
adaptation of Hamlet is the best work that I’ve seen
this group do, even though the play, as director Linda Mussman
tells the audience in a preshow chat, “has been put through
the meat grinder.” Acts have been rearranged and soliloquies
are now shared by more than one character, but the center
holds: At 73 minutes, There but Not There is the most
efficient and engaging version of Hamlet anyone but
a purist could ask for. And any version of Hamlet that
has Gertrude saying “Hamlet, don’t fuck around” has captured
the essence of the play.
This production captures both the humor, horror and humanity
of Shakespeare’s play and our culture’s sense memory
of studying the play in school or seeing it in films. Mussmann,
Bruce and Stoddard do this with a bracing pace. There but
Not There has the politics, the ego angst, and the dysfunctional
family dynamics of Shakespeare, but, sadly, the sex is snipped.
The music, which ranges from vaudeville to ragtime to blues
to ’50s jazz to Jewel to Yoko Ono, helps to illuminate the
themes from Hamlet that inspire the contemporary touches of
There but Not There. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy
in particular becomes a Stoddard-and-Bruce duet, with evocative,
jazzy upright bass providing accompaniment. Polonius’ “To
thine own self be true” speech becomes a vaudeville number
worthy of Chico and Groucho, complete with silly glasses,
goofy coats, false mustaches and a “chase” around the upstage
window shades that distills all that’s funny in Shakespeare.
Stoddard sings Hamlet well and has a goofy, ingénue earnestness
that’s useful for Hamlet, while Bruce, with her regal bearing,
retains the focus through the half-dozen characters she plays.
However, they don’t seem like a couple. Even when roiling
on Hamlet’s raked bed upstage center during what in Shakespeare’s
play is the infamous Hamlet/Gertrude Oedipal confrontation
over her “nasty sty,” Stoddard and Bruce seem more interested
in not mussing the sheets.
but Not There balances Hamlet in ways that clear
up the politics, the contemporary relevance, the poetry and
the humor of the most complex and longest of Shakespeare’s
plays. There but Not There uses enough Hamlet
snippets to function as a through line, but the video, music,
images and transmutation of the text are what engage and entertain
here. As it is a work in progress, I hope There but Not
There is altered to plumb the sty for the honey that makes
Ophelia’s madness so poignant and Hamlet’s betrayal so horrifying.
La MaMa in Greenwich Village recently presented The Hamlet
Project, a performance-art, hiphop version of the play,
but you need not travel so far to see innovative theater.
Get thee to Hudson for the most original production in the
area, and the most complete and powerful work TSL has done.