By William Shakespeare; Directed by Pitr Strait
Produced by Torn Out Theater
Off Off Broadway, Classic
Runs through 9.8.17
Music Pagoda in Prospect Park; King Jagiello Statue in Central Park
by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.12.17
Jake Austin Robertson in Hamlet. Photo by Marjolaine Gallet.
BOTTOM LINE: The rumors are true. Hamlet is getting a nude, all-male production in Prospect and Central Park. Theasy was happy to be there to report back.
To make theater in this city, you’ve got to set yourself apart. And if you’re going to do that with the most renowned playwright of all time, you bet there’s gonna be some creative clamoring for attention. Playing in parking lots, getting drunk in bars, inciting protestors in Central Park—it's all just par for the course for Shakespeare. And now we have this version. If “in the park” and “all-male” wasn’t already niche-y enough for you, Torn Out Theater provides us with a production in which many of the characters perform entirely naked, much to the horror of some passing teenagers and delight of a rather substantial crowd in Prospect Park.
What smells of marketing gimmick is, I’m happy to report, much more smartly conceived. For starters, it’s not quite the “all-nude, all-male” Hamlet of your reductionist fantasies. All-male is correct. All-nude is a misnomer. “You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom,” declares Hamlet in an all-too relevant line that is perhaps a bit on the nose here. As Hamlet gets crazier, the clothes come off. As rivalries are tested, nudity ensues. Horatio spends much of the show totally nude while Claudius remains wrapped in layers of fabric, concealing his true intentions. It’s not until Ophelia goes totally off the rails that she’s fully disrobed. The players, taking their cues from their director who commands them to “speak the speech,” similarly follow with their birthday suits.
Less dramaturgically fair, but rightly titillating and bad ass, is the battle between Hamlet and Laertes where Laertes fights with full sword and shield and nothing else. It’s the only time he appears totally nude; as a device to test alliances, it makes less sense given that Laertes remains steadfast in his hatred of Hamlet for the curse he places on his dear Ophelia.
A few indulgent performances aside, this production is marked by some exciting acting, notably by Jake Austin Robertson as a fearless Hamlet. And as with any performance of Shakespeare, we can latch on to new ideas and new perspectives on the poetry we once heard a different way. This Hamlet is certainly worth an evening in the park. Here, in the open air on a late summer night with dirt on his naked body, we can really hear “what a piece of work is man.”
(Hamlet plays at the Music Pagoda in Prospect Park through Sunday, August 13 at 2, then continues at the King Jagiello Statue in Central Park on Thursday, September 7 and Friday, September 8 at 5. Tickets are free. More information is available at tornouttheater.org.)
Hamlet is by William Shakespeare. Directed by Pitr Strait. Props and Set Design by Ashleigh Walsh. Costume Design by Aaron Crosby. Fight Director is Lisa Kopitsky. Stage Manager is Gina Costagliola.
The cast is Robert Aloi, Miles Butler, Giordano Cruz, Patrick T. Horn, John L. Payne, Clinton Powell, Mike Press, Jake Austin Robertson, Roland Sands, Marcus Stewart, Brendan Walsh, Max Wingert, and the musicians are Eric Allen and Dominic Frigo.