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Open: 01/29/09- Close: 02/08/09 Noh Infused Hamlet
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin

A design teacher in college used to say: the only thing you have to do to create or critique art is ask yourself two questions: What do you see? And how does it make you feel?

I saw several Asian performers dressed in Japanese robes and garments on a stage with fabric hanging across the sides and a large staircase at the back. I saw multicolored lights, and lots, and lots, and lots of frantic twirling. I heard muffled sounds that sometimes sounded sometimes like Japanese, sometimes like English, and sometimes like gibberish. I occasionally heard what I thought were the names Horatio and Ophelia, and I saw occasional English words projected on a scrim. Some of these words were Shakespeare’s. Most were not.

How did it make me feel? To be perfectly honest: confused. The program noted that the production was based on the Buddhist ideas of love and death and the spirit of Zen: life is impermanent, but that death is not the end of life. I focused very hard, and tried to figure out what in the play might symbolize these things. Then I tried to imagine that all the twirling had some sort of Zen symbolism. Finally I was reduced to trying to discover if the staging or scenic design was attempting to utilize Feng Shui.

The story of Hamlet itself was completely deconstructed. Almost no Shakespeare was spoken, and when it was, it was spoken out of order and rewritten. I did find it poignant when at the very end, as he lay dying, Hamlet said (in practically the only English dialogue in the show), “To be, or not to be? Yes. Yes. To Be.” The last image was of beautiful gobo snow falling across Hamlet and the stage. That image rang true, and was the one moment that brought together the Western Hamlet, and the Eastern Noh Theater.

I could not make heads or tails of the rest. Every character except Hamlet looked as if they had just walked out of “The Ring” or “The Grudge” -- they writhed, wraithlike, across the stage, yelling. Over and over again. How did it make me feel? I focused really hard, really, really hard, and still.... The actors all committed fully to…whatever they were doing. The lights and projections were pretty (I have to say that whoever picked the gel colors did a beautiful job), as were the costumes, but I couldn’t help thinking they needed a dramaturge.

But what was the director (Kenji Kawarasaki) trying to convey? What did he see? And what did he want to make us feel? No answers come.

Venue:
La Mama (first Floor Theater) : 74A E. 4th Street