Monday, September 28, 2015

Currently Reading 9.28.15

Crazier Than The Prince of Denmark

A short while ago, a dear friend of mine, a director I cherish and admire, came to me with the proverbial unrefusable offer. (Unrefusable is now a fancy academic word, because I deemed it so. Get on with the using of it, will you?)

He asked me to play Hamlet. 

"Like, Ophelia?" I asked incredulously. "I'm too old to play Ophelia. My virginal gamine days have long since passed. Please don't tell me you think I'm old enough to play the queen. I am very much not old enough to play the queen. I am Titania. Beatrice. The odd wet nurse." I gestured to my less-than-ample bosom, which has nevertheless fed my children.

He quirked an imperial British brow, well acquainted with my histrionics and buffoonery. "No, Dovey, I want you to play Hamlet. As in the titular character." 

"Titular is right. I have a set of titulars, if you've not noticed." 

"I don't care about your titulars. You're going to do this. We're queering the role. The cast is color blind. You're doing this."

Written out, it sounds much more of a demand than unrefusable offer. However, like most good directors, he suffers from a near pathological need for control. Of course, I agreed. Terrified and barred up in a Globe-spangled aura of nerves, but I agreed. Any actor worth their salt would lick horse froth to play Hamlet in New York City. 

The first table read took place at his home. He lives in a large, ostentatious Victorian manse in the outskirts of Brooklyn. What it lacks in desirable locale, it more than makes up for in patrician comfort. The cast is set up around an overlarge table in the solar, because that is apparently a thing. Our fearless director is passing round carafes of wine and pots of tea, because that is also, apparently, a thing. I skip the wine and smile politely at the familiar faces, and smile more broadly at the unfamiliar ones. I am socially awkward, so this makes sense to me. Sitting to my left is the young actress who will play Ophelia--my Ophelia--she is dwarfed by me, and is graced with a visage so lacking in guile or hardness that it is instantly apparent why she was cast. The king and queen are to my right, and I've known both actors for years. This actually isn't the first time the actor playing the king has played my "father." He is as stout and strong as a Rottweiler, and just as German. Our director sits in an elevated chair behind where I sit at the head of the table. I can't decide whether he looks more like well-dressed gargoyle, or some reincarnation of Errol Flynn. Either way, his point is made. 

It is only after everyone is content with their libations that our lord master on high has us begin. My palms feel as though they've been dipped in sticky brine, and every word I utter is a constant reminder of my femininity. I remind my brain over and over again that it's ok, I'm supposed to be here. I was chosen. I am the Prince of Denmark.

As we wend our way though hundreds of lines of Shakespeare's pregnant text, the cadence becomes more natural. It starts to sound less stalled, less stunted, more Elizabethan. 

We fuddle through act one, loosening our tongues, perfecting the accent. We riddle out act two, find the rhythm, accept the unnatural echoes of the past through our instruments. We prepare for the third, and I find that the brine has thickened across the skin that grips my glass of water. Slippery hands meet the cool perspiration on the surface, and I cannot lift the relief to reach my parched palate. I swallow against the thickness in my throat and throw a glance at the director. As two comes to its final lines he calls for a ten minute break. 

Ten minutes is too long, I think to myself. I only need barely enough time to slake my thirst and come back to my own mind. I want this first read over. I want it done. But here I am, minutes away from musing about death and dreams, the most famous lines in the folio, and I can't spit words past paralyzed lips. 

And in a moment, Polonius is there, making me laugh with a story about how it was when we played Bassanio and Portia, or when I played Viola. Now, it wasn't Shakespeare queering my person, it was the director, and no ruse for convenience.

I decide that refusing the offered wine was no longer a good idea. After relaxing into half of a glass of Bordeaux, we are called to resume. 

I imagine my accent in my head before the first breath of the soliloquy erupts from my heart. I inhale deeply, and,

"To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd."

It was done. I'd read it. Mostly recited from memories of seeing some of the world's most respected actors quote the same lines over and over again. From times listening to fellow students make mince meat of the text in a vain attempt to impress an acting teacher, or boy, or girl. But this time it was me, it was my voice, my character making music or mincemeat of words written over 400 years ago. It was my spirit connecting to that long ago bard. 

It was rapture. 


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