Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Add me to the distracted multitude

By the time you walk out of the Broadhurst Theatre, you will find yourself filing Jude Law, Hamlet As Played By, under Animal Grace, Unlikeliest Definitions Of. One of the joys of this Hamlet (besides being able to praise the man’s theatre chops) is being totally captivated by Law’s moment-to-moment physicality. He doesn’t just act the part, he dances it in incredibly fluid fashion, with a mind-body connection that’s inhumanly supple. This is no self-obsessed star turn; this is a generous actor who moves into a pose or a gesture which totally embodies the line he’s speaking and then smoothly swings into something completely different based on what he’s going to say next, and it’s all so effortless that you can’t tell whether the song is driving the dance or the dance driving the song.

Driving is not just a good word to describe Law’s performance (this is no melancholy Dane -- when Law’s Hamlet puts on an antic disposition, he doesn’t step into a different car, he just floors the gas in the car he’s already driving), it’s also a good word to describe the evening itself, at least while Law is on stage. The verse is treated like real speech, which means you get to hear famous lines as casual conversation, and there is a briskness about everything and nearly everyone that serves both the play and the production well.

But when Hamlet is off in England, and the scene-carrying duties fall on a negligible Ophelia and a whiny Claudius, you might as well be marking time till the Gravedigger scene. Seriously: during Ophelia’s mad scene? The bottom drops out from under the play faster than a broken elevator in the Empire State Building. Mostly because Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia isn’t so much bad as non-existent. She’s the acting equivalent of a green screen: the actors all face her and talk at her trusting that there will be an actual performance inserted later via the magic of CGI. And meanwhile every actress over 20 in the audience is thinking “I could mainline anti-freeze and still do the part better than this.”

O what a potentially great acting opportunity is here o'erthrown!

It’s such a nagging flaw that you could spend a couple of drinks at Smith’s bitching about it (like I did with DJ, Shannon and Taliesen) and forget the brilliant lighting design, the riveting quiet moments (best ever “Were you sent for?” scene between Hamlet, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern), and Matt Ryan’s solid Horatio, among other things.

Overall? This is right up there with seeing Geoffrey Rush in Exit The King: (a) you’ll get the same kick out of watching someone run a marathon when all you ever thought he could do was run wind sprints; (b) while there’s a lot of good work being done by most of the rest of the cast, there’s no question that the weight of the play falls on the shoulders of the lead actor; and (c) you’ll kick yourself if you miss it. So don't.


amanda said...

another reason to hate leaving NY. I wish I could see it!!!

Horvendile said...

I wish you could have played Ophelia!