Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hamlet By The Coast

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Since I started reviewing theatre, it’s become a personal goal to see productions of each of the complete plays of William Shakespeare. In the past five years alone, I’ve managed to mark quite a few different plays off the checklist. Oddly enough, it’s been the more popular ones that I’ve had difficulty finding productions of. This month that changes, as Ihave the opportunity to see a couple I’ve never seen in prodicution before—notably A Comedy of Errors in Spring Green and . . . evidently there’s a production of Hamlet opening much closer to home next week.

The Loose Canon theatre company will be presenting a production of the classic 16th Century tragedy at the Marian Center. It’s another opportunity to see a towering, classic tragedy presented in a very intimate environment. Seeing something as primal as Hamlet in the tiny confines of . . . okay, so the press release doesn’t say exactly which stage at the Marian Center they’ll be using . . . but at least two out of the four stages I’d seen used there are very, very intimate.

Loose Canon's production of Hamlet rune June 19th through 27th at the Marian Center by the coast . . . on 3211 South Lakeshore Drive in St. Francis, (though many of us think of it as being Bay View . . .)


It's interesting . . . hough its evidently been around for a number of years (it was founded in 2005) and has evidently staged things in Milwaukee (and, evidently, Kenosha) before, I’m not as familiar with Loose Cannon as I might have expected to be with a four year-old theatre company. Judging from Loose Cannon’s mission statement, it’s a company coming from a perspective I agree with on a lot of levels . . .

" Our Mission:

We believe that theatre should be taken off the assembly line.
"

Okay . . . agreed, but this is a lot more easily said than accomplished. Part of being a successful artistic enterprise kind of begs for an assembly line approach. As nice as it would be to carefully craft productions at their own pace and let them breathe on their own, it’s difficult to promote a show or find a venue for it if you’re giving it its own time to develop . . . one of the few theatre companies I know of that has truly eliminated the assembly line is Kopper Bear Productions, which only stages productions when the right cast gets together with the right script. They haven’t had a production in over a year, but every show I see with them is phenomenal.

" We believe that theatre must look its audience in the eyes and in the soul. "

Yes. Agreed. People have gone to great lengths to attempt to tear down the third wall, but nothing does that better than the simple act of connecting to an actor, a character and a script through a pair of eyes and the soul that’s attached to them.  

"We believe that theatre should engage all the senses"

Cool. But again--easier said than done. Sound is the easiest sense to appeal to . . . as much of any play is carried through dialogue. Sight is just as common a contact point, but as I recently saw in a production of Children of a Lesser God,  The visual impact of a drama is often compromised by dialogue. When an actress was forced to getting everything across in only action for a role that was really integral to the plot, I became extremely sensitive to all of the physical action . . . and then there are those other three sense . . . the ones often overlooked. One doesn’t often get touched as an audience member in a production . . . but on those rare occasions when it happens, it can be a really powerful experience . . . even if it’s only the slightest brush with an actor. . . smell is often overlooked as well . . . though those few times that I’ve smelled actuall coffee or actual food being consumed by actors in character it adds to the reality of what’s going on immeasurably. The one time that I ever remember having my taste engaged during a production, it was entirely psychological. Insurgent Theatre was doing a production of a play by John Manno entitled Cured—which had a whole Soylent Green thing going on . . . and productions featured people eating a tin of what looked a lot like meatloaf at a dinner table in the late Astor Theatre . . . and only afterwards do we find out the source of the meat It was kind of a cheap trick to be sure, but it rested in an otherwise clever play and had a hell of an impact . . .
.
"We believe that theatre is dangerous
"

Agreed. Perhaps the most dangerous thing about it is that most people think it’s harmless. It’s not. There’s a reason why people are legally allowed to own handguns, but very few people actually have stages in their homes . . . I remember an old school Milwaukee performance poet telling the story of a poet who was onstage reading a series of poems . . . nearing the end of his performance, he’d announced that he was about to do his "last poem." After finishing the poem, he collapsed on the stage and promptly died. He’d announced that it was going to be his last poem. It was. It had become something of a superstition for a some of us to announce our last poem of the evening.
.
"With unparalleled dedication to our work, we are committed to reaching the public.
"
  
This last bit sounds bold, brave and ambitious. As such, it’s a harder target  to reach than simply putting on an entertaining show . . . but I look forward to this production of Hamlet. . . four Shaekspear productions in one month . . . sounds kind of intense . . . .

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