WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Small Roles

Hey all, you haven't met me before, but I've been working as the administrative intern for CoLab for about a year now. So far I've really enjoyed my experiences and I'm so excited to finally be able to start blogging!

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining Erika at an event called "Something Rotten - Hamlet Re-Mixed" hosted by Whistler in the Dark and Imaginary Beasts as part of their repertory event that included Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth and Ionesco's Macbett.

Mary-Liz was involved a piece directed by Meron Langsner that was an interpretation of Act V of Hamlet. It involved swords and in the words of the director "Rampant Badassery" of varying kinds. What it did NOT include was Fortinbras. I was waiting for all 10 minutes of the piece just anticipating his arrival. Not only did he not appear in Act V...but he wasn't mentioned in any of the other four acts as well. You would think that somewhere throughout the collective process to bring an interprative version of Hamlet together that SOMEONE would have thought to include the true foil to Hamlet himself.This massive oversight reminded me of the old addage "there are no small parts, only small actors". In attempting to recreate the classic (albeit in a condensed version) the creators of each small piece took very broad strokes.

For such a project as "Something Rotten" it is understandable to me that certain nuances and details get cut to the wayside, but it is interesting that a personality that pervades the play in so many ways can so easily be disposed of.

It has come to my attention that the newest full production, being produced by Psych Drama Company (opening tomorrow 11/30/11) also cuts out Fortinbras. There are other liberties being taken with the script, and cuts and changes have become common place in Shakespeare productions. But what do you cut when you cut a character like Norway? What do you lose in the meaning and understanding of the story, the text, and the playwright's intention? What would happen if you cut Mitch from A Streetcar Named Desire ?

Fortinbras is a device in the play that serves as an antithesis for Hamlet. And for all of our Shakespeare scholars/enthusiasts/actors out there, you know that you can never undervalue antithesis. It is what colors the play, the characters, the text.

His presence in the play prior to act V (through other characters' text) as well as his final speech (see below) also create a context for the action of the play that is undervalued by most producers/directors of the play. Fortinbras provides the reality check that no matter how hard you try or what decisions you make, the final outcome of your life actually has very little to do with you. It puts Hamlet's struggle into stark perspective. Fortinbras, with his threats of invasion and ultimate take-over of Denmark, is a reminder of that. If Hamlet had lived and made different choices, who's to say Fortinbras still wouldn't have won in the end? The presence of this larger force, embodied by this tiny character, has the ability to change the tenor of the play in a major way. Why sacrifice layers of what is considered by some, the best play in the canon, to cut 9 lines of text and one actor from production? Whether or not the young Dane had avenged his father sooner, or with more vigor; whether or not he was mad; if he had chosen love and Ophelia rather than hatred and vengefulness do not change the fact that there are outside forces, larger than yourself, that determine much of how your life turns out. And to highlight that struggle is to highlight the true and universal questions that Hamlet offers to himself and the audience. Without Fortinbras those questions are lost in the senseless deaths of the young men of this play.

So really, just don't cut Fortinbras.


Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

Looking forward to the next one:


** Gary Howard is a junior at University of Chicago studying Geopolitics and Theatre

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