Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Latest Wow Moment at Hartt - Hamlet

Two weeks ago I had my latest "wow" moment at the Hartt School (and mine go all the way back to the 1960's). It was at a performance of Hamlet at the Handel Center for the Performing Arts, wondrously staged in one of the black box theaters which seat just under 100 people. It had no constant or consistent stage furnishings, just a few chairs and other small props, hand carried in and out by the actors, to depict the court of King Claudius where he would be holding court... or, as it turns out, the court would be withholding the deference that this murderous villian so clearly thought should be his and holding onto him so that he could be present for the later-in-the-play skulduggery that would end his brief reign.

What it had in abundance was the genius of Shakespeare, the brilliance of Director Malcolm Morrison in this brisk, fast-moving, spirited, yet subtle production and the magnificent enthusiasm of a cast of dozens of gifted student performers, stagehands and even a student composer all dedicated to capturing the elusive spirit of this timeless, complex masterwork.

Some sections had to be cut by Director Morrison to keep each of these four days of performances under three hours in length. One such cut was the suck up speech -- pardon my street language; all the other synonyms that come to mind were worse -- of Rosencrantz, that minor, nefarious enforcer for Claudius, in Act III, Scene iii.

"Rosie" is preparing to accompany Hamlet to England at the instigation of Claudius to make sure that Hamlet quietly disappears to ensure a degree of permanence to the reign of  Hamlet's uncle. In what amounts to a few otherwise forgettable lines Rosencrantz delivers the most beautiful description of the chaos that surrounds the death of a majestic and noble figure (sic) like Claudius. (It's a good thing he wasn't majestic or noble. What would Hamlet be like if he were? A very short, one act play, methinks.)

Rosencrantz says: "The cease of majesty dies not alone but like a gulf doth draw what's near it with it; or it is a massy wheel fixed on the summit of the highest mount to whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things are mortised and adjoined, which, when it falls, each small annexment, petty consequence, attends the boisterous ruin."

For anyone else but Shakespeare this would resemble a Woody Allen throw away line but Good Old Will in some instances inserts his most beautiful lines into the mouths of his hanger-on characters. Even with this speech missing, the performance on a cool Sunday afternoon once again reminded me of all that is special about the Hartt School; its standards, its teaching and its terrific students.

One short request: Malcolm, if you do Hamlet again, please include Rosie's speech.

BTW, there is another big performance coming up later this week at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hartford when a cast of thousands -- well, at least a few hundred -- including the Hartt Choruses supplemented by the New Haven Chorale and the Hartford Symphony will be performing the Verdi Requiem on Friday night. The last time this piece was performed there was in the 1970's when Moshe Paranov conducted the work. It too was a Hartt "wow" moment... only slightly diminished by Uncle Moshe's 90 minute illustrious, personal appraisal of the performance immediately following it. More on that another time. I'm going. Hope you can too. Suggest you go to http://www.hartford.edu/ and look up the time of the performance and other details. No fixed ticket prices, just suggested contributions at the door.

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