nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
July 30, 2011
Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot is just as it sounds: free Shakespeare presented in a municipal parking lot on the Lower East Side. Founded in 1995 (not 1993 as stated by TDC) by Expanded Arts’ Robert Spahr and Jennifer Pias-Hage, it’s been an exciting facet of New York theatre for 16 years now. I’m proud to say I was a member from its initial summer, fortunate to have both directed and acted there with some of the most talented people I have ever seen assembled. The shows we performed form my fondest theatrical memories. Some of the friendships forged there have become family—with all the love, occasional hurt feelings, and fierce loyalty that entails. The current producers, The Drilling Company, seem to share that depth of feeling for this space, and its possibilities.
My personal history with the space made me excited and curious to check out the latest group to park in “our” spot on Ludlow. Happily, it’s still a great venue to present outdoor theatre, with warm lighting from the street lamps in the center of the parking lot, good acoustics with a nice “bounce” for the actor’s voices off the surrounding buildings, a fresh breeze and a great mix of audience members. TDC seems to be a fine group and I’m happy they’re carrying on the tradition forged by Expanded Arts.
I saw their second show of the summer, Hamlet. (Here’s a link to info on the play.)
In director Hamilton Clancy’s vision, Hamlet is the story of a modern dysfunctional family who—like many families—hide their secrets yet strive to connect, with varying success. However, unlike most families, when things don’t go as planned double crosses turn deadly, and the bodies start piling up.
What struck me immediately about this production was the strength of its women. Karla Hendrick’s Gertrude reminds me of the comic genius Alex Borstein, with great humor, but her true power lies in her matriarchal command of every scene. The gorgeous Amanda Dillard’s Ophelia begins as an effervescent hippie-groovy Olson twin look-alike, turns into a troubled and pouty tween, and finally morphs into an insistent yet heartbreakingly confused young lady. Jennifer Fouché, who makes a commanding Player Queen, ends the show with an a cappella excerpt of Ophelia’s mad song, and let me tell you, she is amazing, her voice strong and sweet like a young Etta James; I wished the entire play within a play had been sung by her. Fouché is breathtaking.
Among the men, standout David Sitler’s Claudius, seeming very like a modern Oliver North, is unafraid to portray a true villain without twirling his mustache; he draws genuine empathy for his struggle under the weight of his crime. James Butler as Osric and Eric Harper as Marcellus/Luciano add a nice energy, and the remainder of the cast all have merit.
The stage combat by Kathy Curtiss is a little problematic. The audience is so close to the action, the rapiers so energetically ployed, I was worried about losing an eye.
The production's scenic design by Rebecca Lord-Surratt is minimal, but functional—a versatile platform, some benches and a small hanging attached to a parking sign for the arras. Director Clancy's use of live sound effects is inspired—various drums, flutes and cicada sounding rattles all work to good effect. But, the costumes are unevenly executed by him. In a nice touch the Ghost and mad Ophelia are dressed respectively as a Hobo and a dirty hippie, perhaps nods to some locals of the area? Less successfully, some of the men sport military touches, some don't, and Polonius is made to carry a large butterfly net which he lugs around like a security blanket.
Which brings me to our star, Alessandro Colla as Hamlet, and that age old question: is Hamlet cagey and conflicted, or is he just coo-coo for cocoa puffs? In this version, the latter is decidedly so. Colla’s scratchy vocal gymnastics and bouncy physicality are eerily reminiscent of a young Bobcat Goldthwait. While certainly different, the kooky-sexy/smart-ass nature of his Hamlet is exhausting to watch. The audience keeps waiting for the moment Hamlet will put down his clown mask, let us in, show us the terrible pain, the troubled, torn, betrayed boy hiding under the desperate clowning, but he instead keeps up his goofy façade to the bitter end. The cycle of dysfunction continues.
Ultimately, Colla is bold, interesting, and very watchable, as is the play. I wish Hamilton Clancy and TDC much love and success, from my “family” to his.