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Hamenstern & Guildenlet, dead or alive, pt.1

By |2008-10-30T09:00:00-04:00October 30th, 2008|Entertainment|

By Robert Bethune

The moment I walked into the Hilberry for their current production of “Hamlet,” the set hit me. Jeffrey Strange’s Elsinore is beautifully worked stone in a forbidding mass of arches, levels, stairs and pillars, lit with heavy haze by Kathleen E. Lanpheer. It made me feel that there were enormous heights above this space, full of more stone and mystery, which I couldn’t quite see; a terrific tone-setter for the play.
Blair Anderson, the director, seems to have decided to let the play speak for itself. He gives us no gimmicky concept, and he even puts it roughly in the time period implied in the text. These days that’s a remarkably innovative approach to Shakespeare! True, he does make some pointed directorial moves with the text. Some text gets moved from the regular location, but the device works dramatically and creates interesting tensions in new contexts. Mostly, however, he lets Willy speak – what an idea!
It works. The acting was not truly stellar, but the play was crisply spoken and cleanly performed, one or two accidents aside. Characterizations are appropriately straightforward and solidly executed. The people and the action that Shakespeare wanted to show us come through.
So what’s with my headline? Well, there are a few interesting pairings of classic and modern plays. Aeschylus’ “Oresteia” pairs off against Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra.” Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone” pairs off with Sophocles. And Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” pairs off with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” That’s the pair we have this season at the Hilberry. Right now, we have “Hamlet.” We get to Stoppard’s play next month. I’m looking forward to it.
For people who want to experience most fully the relationship between these two productions, there are certain golden opportunities: Nov. 29 and Jan. 17, when the shows play back-to-back on the same day, and Jan. 15-16, when the shows play on succeeding days. Save the dates!

Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in rotating repertory through Jan. 30. Tickets: $10-$30. For information: 313-577-2972 or

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.