A condensed Shakespearean tragedy...in Japanese.
Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey
Shakespeare's versatile plotlines have long transcended cultural boundaries; his works have been translated and adapted all over the world. The Japanese are no exception; they have brought Kabuki and Noh to the Bard. However, director/choreographer Kenji Kararasaki's attempt to make the grief and agony of Hamlet visible ends up being lost in translation.
Part of that has to do with compression: the five-act play is drastically shortened here, running only 75 minutes without intermission. It also has to do with language: in Japanese, the beautiful meter and imagery of Hamlet's monologues disappears, and what's left is a group of actors yelling and jerking across the stage as if having seizures. Even avid Shakespeare fans who know Hamlet back and forth (like this reviewer) will find Karasaki's version difficult to follow.
Yoshiaki Takano's video design may boldly display the names of the lead characters as they enter, but the "designs" themselves are no better than a juvenile PowerPoint presentation.
Hamlet finally gets it right by turning the chilling climax into a nightmarish dance for Claudius (Sho Tohno); however, by this time, the choreography has been so overdone that there is nothing new left to strike a nerve among the audience. Yoko Tomabechi's light, playful dancing makes her an ideal Ophelia, but these movements are far and few between. What's left too closely resembles a parody of Japanese culture.
The space at La MaMa sets the tone of the melancholy tragedy, and every inch of the theater is used well. The music, combined with lighting design by Jin Nakayama, helps to enhance the prince's brooding feelings. Sadly, by the end of the performance, even the brevity of the play feels like eternity.
Hamlet (75 Minutes, no intermission)
Theatre of the World (74A E Fourth Street)
Tickets $25; Students $20
Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2:30 p.m. through February 8.
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