- The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane
It is a dog’s life in The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, a provocative and whimsical revisioning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by the Dublin-based experimental theatre company Pan Pan. Founded in 1991, the award-wining Pan Pan last brought its brand of theatrical innovation to the Wexner Center in 2008 with Oedipus Loves You, a punk rock–infused, dysfunctional-family drama inspired by the doomed House of Thebes. In its treatment of the burdened Prince of Denmark, Pan Pan again surprised with an interactive work that celebrated Hamlet as a cultural touchstone yet respectfully refused to be bound by its textual authority. The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane played up Hamlet’s cultural reach by situating Hamlet as a contemporary Everyman and all actors/spectators as would-be Hamlets. While any given production of Hamlet is arguably haunted by previous iterations, Pan Pan’s metatheatrical approach welcomed comparison, explicitly referring to and, in part, emulating Richard Burton’s 1964 Hamlet, a production notable for its unconventional staging in a “rehearsal room” style. In addition to this strategy of self-reflexivity, the production borrowed from the aesthetic of the absurd, an unexpected though complementary pairing that injected a new, contemporary sensibility into this time-honored tale of ambition, misfortune, and duty.
A curious pre-show set the tone for the performance, featuring two men, a Great Dane (Sir Brody), [End Page 437] and a game of keep away with poor Yorick’s skull as the ball. This lively sequence functioned as a dumbshow, a spectacle of play, performance, and real and fictional identities that deliberately cited Hamlet’s theatricality, comically toppled preconceptions about this retelling, and alluded to a new kind of mousetrap, one where we all share the same (Yorick’s) fate. As a stand-in for Hamlet, the majestic-looking canine was more than just a visual pun; the Great Dane’s carefree presence and enthusiastic play juxtaposed the oblivion and mortality signified by the object of his attention, the toy skull, while the game itself seemed to comment on Hamlet’s impending quest for truth and revenge—as if to say, in the end we are all just chasing our tails.
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As the carefully punctuated title suggests, the play was presented in two distinct parts that together created the overarching play-within-a-play structure. In act 1, Pan Pan’s production team, lead by director Gavin Quinn, played by himself, auditioned three Hamlet hopefuls: actors Derrick Devine, Conor Madden, and Bashir Moukarzel, also played by themselves. Quinn put the actors through their paces, making a spectacle of the performers’ emotional and physical agility, as well as their professional ambition and personal quirks, and in the process comically exposed the indignities of the actor’s life. The Rehearsal’s endgame became clear when Quinn tasks audience members with the responsibility of casting the role of Hamlet, asking them to vote by standing with the actor of their choice. After several suspenseful minutes of democracy in action, the body count at this performance awarded the part of Hamlet to Moukarzel, whose measured, cerebral interpretation narrowly edged out Madden’s manic physicality and Devine’s brooding introspection.
With the main character cast, act 2, Playing the Dane, focused on the playing of an abbreviated version of Hamlet’s story. In Pan Pan’s revisioning, however, Hamlet was not the lone actor Shakespeare scripted him to be. At various points, Moukarzel’s Hamlet was shadowed by would-be Hamlets Devine and Madden (and by extension all the spectators who took the stage in the previous act to associate themselves with their representative Hamlet). The would-be Hamlets echoed Moukarzel’s movement and words, a staging that positioned Hamlet less as an icon of individualism than as a barometer for a collective consciousness. In this vein, Hamlet’s “To...