Wednesday Jun 20, 2007

Multiple Dimensions

Tonight, I finally finished watching Kevin Kline's Hamlet, and as I was going back and forth across various scenes, I was immersed in the fullness of the subtlties in this production, not in its theatricality but in the superb delivery of its performance.

While, in recent years, multiple renditions of Hamlet have kept arriving on DVD --and I have seen several of them over the years-- the best so far, must be Kline's. It was apprantely recorded in a New York Shakespeare festival and released in 1990 under the Broadway Theatre Archive series. By comparison, Kenneth Branagh's 1996 Hamlet, a movie and not such a bad Hamlet, proves to be a rather weak cinematic imitation of Kline's theatric production. (Let's not even touch on Mel Gibson's Hamlet, which is even more poorly done in comparison to Kline's.)

It is the logic of Hamlet --or rather what we know of it-- that any good theatric production must preserve and propagate to the audience. The visual fanfare of cinematic productions (Gibson's and to a lesser extent Branagh's) obscure that logic. It is as if the visual display pleases the eye but deafens the ears (the heart?) to the story. In describing the logic of Hamlet, Lajos Egri says it right:

Literature has many tridimensional characters--Hamlet, for instance. We not only know his age, his appearance, his state of health; we can easily surmise his idiosyncrasies. His background, his sociology, give impetus to the play. We know the political situation at the time, the relationship between his parents, the events that have gone before and the effect they have had upon him. We know his personal premise, and its motivation. We know his psychology, and we can see clearly how it results from his physical and sociological make-up. In short, we know Hamlet as we can never hope to know ourselves.

In a good play, every scene works to advance the story and its premise. Not an extra word. Not an extra move. 

Saturday Jan 13, 2007

Light on Character

If you'd like some light but insightful reading on character with plenty of literary illustrations, consider Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing. I ran into Egri's book in an independent bookstore quite accidentally. Egri's book reads as crisply as it must have read back in 1942 when it was first published as How to Write a Play. The first Touchstone edition, which I have in my hands came out in 2004. In this day and age, if a book survives past 60 years, let it be named a modern classic!

Prior to plunging into Egri's writing, you may want to consider reading A Doll's House or Tartuffe or something more modern, perhaps Betrayal.

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