I was waiting for Hamlet outside of the Starbucks in the World Financial Center with a caramel latte in one hand and a notebook in the other. He was late. Leave it to the Prince of Denmark to think he can stand a girl up like that. There was a crowd gathering around the store; an influx of late shoppers, I assumed, though was quickly proven wrong. They were all there to see Hamlet too. By the end of the night (he showed up eventually, better late than never I suppose) we had not only seen him, but chased him, spied on him, tripped over him, and screamed at him as his dwindling sanity led him and us into the darkest confines of his mind. All of this, in a mall, over the course of two and a half hours.
Okay, so the World Financial Center isn’t exactly a mall, but the surrealism of watching Laertes bid his sister farewell with an Ann Taylor Loft store in the background certainly gives one that same cross-cultural impression. Once the play begins to unfold, however, the Bank of America signs and Customer Service desks melt away, leaving one with the notion that sure, this could be a palace in Denmark. The effect is one of complete immersion, an effect that is only partially due to the natural theatricality of the venue. I give the most credit to the actors, who move so naturally throughout the space as to be entirely convincing. Where else should Hamlet be, if not perched morosely on the brass railing of a staircase as an escalator ticks down not five feet behind him? The King and Queen of Denmark look totally at home in the Winter Gardens of the Center- no, it’s not a food court. Don’t be silly.
The talented and capable cast is headed by the small, dark and handsome Justin Blanchard in the role of Hamlet. He is utterly convincing as the grief-stricken prince but does not lose sight of the character’s black humor. Simultaneously moody, spooky, dashing, and clever, Blanchard’s Hamlet is as unhinged as he is understandable; his recitation of Shakespeare’s difficult prose is crystal clear. Equally as admirable is Ian Stuart as Polonious, who gave the odious advisor an unlikely and keen sense of comic timing. Ginny Myers Lee is a lovely Ophelia whose tempered mannerisms give the audience no clue of what to expect in her climactic final scene.
One of the most interesting consequences of having the audience follow the characters around as they move from one scene to the next is the inter-scene interactions not common to a traditional play. For example, the characters join the spectators for the show’s famous play-within-a-play. The audience can watch the character’s watch a play…that is actually about the characters in the first place. Is your head spinning yet? Also, more stage time means more time for Hamlet to be a creeper. I’m not objecting.
The New York Classical theatre Production of Hamlet is running each night until April 18th at 7:00pm in the World Financial Center on Vesey Street. Audience members are to meet in front of the Starbucks on the first floor of the Center until further instructions are given.