Tonight (Thursday) is opening night for Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s 2010 production of Hamlet, and although I didn’t catch the preview, the show promises to be vibrant and highly accessible. This week’s ”Stage” piece features a conversation with TCU grad Andrew Milbourn – the fellow playing Hamlet – and T.J. Walsh, the show’s director and also the artistic director of Trinity Shakes. Basically, they talked me down off the ledge, because after seeing my share of live Shakespeare over the years, I have to confess: The Bard (as presented) is often disappointing at best, annoying at worst.
The late great Vanity Fair and New Yorker humorist Robert Benchley expressed my concerns well: “They must stand up in front of scenery and let a lot of hams declaim at you while you are supposed to murmur ‘Gorgeous!’ and ‘How well he knew human nature!’ as if you couldn’t go to Bartlett’s Quotations and get the meat of it in half the time.” And this Benchley pearl: “I know I run counter to many cultured minds in this matter, but I think there are a whole lot more of us who twitch through two-thirds of a Shakespearean performance than the last census would lead one to believe… Even Shakespeare himself couldn’t sit through it without reading the ads on the program a little.”
Director T.J. Walsh seems aware of how much bad Bard has been thrown at educated audiences: His desire to make Shakespeare clear, precise, and engrossing is heroic, and with last year’s superior Twelfth Night, he’s already proven that he can pull it off.