Too Much i’ the Sun

In Thomas Ostermeier’s production, now running at the Harvey at BAM Strong, Hamlet (Lars Eidinger) spits food back onto his plate before speaking his first lines.  He throws and kicks beer cans, streaking the air with liquid.  He pushes his video camera into other characters’ faces, and he spits into Ophelia’s (Jenny König).  He face plants into his father’s grave, eats dirt, and farts into a microphone—the last, I think, was real, unsimulated.  In other words, this is Hamlet by way of Ubu Roi, an anarchic production that revels in Hamlet’s immaturity and also in the reactions this immaturity provokes.

Ostermeier relies on a small cast of seven—he doubles Gertrude and Ophelia, King Hamlet and Claudius (Thomas Bading)—pulling the focus to Hamlet’s antics.  They are the most aggressive I have ever seen.  Eidinger gives an athletic performance, hooting and howling like Daffy Duck. In addition to the parade of anti-social behavior cited above, he is continuously pushing and poking everybody, like a child trying to start a fight.  There is a touch of Harpo Marx there.

By the end of the play, Eidinger is smothered in dirt, blood, sweat, and spit.  In the face of such lunacy, the concerns of Claudius and Gertrude, of Ophelia and Laertes, seem foolish.  They have been drained of their dramatic power, and they all feel a little like Polonius (Robert Beyer), babbling about their concerns to no effect.  It put me in mind of Frances McDormand’s pitying look in Fargo, on finding Peter Stormare feed Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper.  “And for what?” she later asks him, “For a little bit of money?”

Ostermeier’s production will no doubt divide audiences, even if it never reaches the grotesque heights of his Richard III, in which Eidinger shames Buckingham by smearing his face with brown food and then guiding the audience in a chant of, “You look like shit!  Have you eaten any pussy yet today?”  Still, it is a thoughtful provocation and one that illuminates one truth about the play: Hamlet is thirty and behaves like he is thirteen.  To this end, Eidinger’s bald spot has its own kind of poetry.  Here is a man who is still trapped in an Oedipal struggle with his uncle and father who nevertheless bears the markers of age.

Hamlet runs through November 5th at the Harvey at BAM Strong.  651 Fulton Street  Brooklyn, NY.  2 hours 45 minutes.  One intermission. Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

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