Monday, October 11, 2010

Hamlet on Alcatraz

Hamlet:  Denmark's a prison.

Rosencrantz:  Then is the world one.

Hamlet:  A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.

Rosencrantz:  We think not so, my lord.

Hamlet:  Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  To me it is a prison.

(Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii)

Last night Denmark was a prison - or at least a former prison - during the We Players performance of Hamlet on Alcatraz Island.  In collaboration with the National Park Service, producers Lauren Dietrich Chavez and Ava Roy have staged a haunting and provocative production of Shakespeare's great tragedy.  What is unique about this production is its site-specific nature, with each scene enacted on a different part of the island - many previously restricted from public access.  What better place to witness descent into madness?  The gifted ensemble makes the most of this powerful setting to underscore the play's themes of ambition, rivalry, violence, vengeance, and forgiveness. 

What was most striking was the way in which the cycle of violence depicted in the play led inevitably to various forms of bondage, including resentment, suspicion, delusion, and death.  The world can become our prison when trapped in the vicious circle of rivalry, violence, and retribution.  Can we break this cycle?  Are we doomed to perpetuate its prison-making dynamic?  Or is there a way out?  Perhaps - if we learn to practice justice and reconciliation before it is too late.

If you are in the Bay Area, be sure to experience Hamlet as you have never seen it before.

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