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A&E: 'Hamlet' halved; a flute sans magic:

October 8, 2007

A&E 'Hamlet' halved; a flute sans magic

This week, I empty the notebook on IRT's truncated "Hamlet," the Indianapolis Opera's "The Magic Flute," an iconoclastic singer/songwriter at the Egyptian Room and passion in Chicago.

At about half the play's full length, it's difficult for "Hamlet"-a great work-to be more than just a good one. With every minute reduced, the classic runs a greater risk of becoming more external and less internal.

Text cutting is expected in just about any Shakespeare production these days, but in the Indiana Repertory Theatre's 90-minute take (playing through Nov. 3), the time limitation felt more an economic issue than an aesthetic or sociological one. Surely this talented company is capable of delivering a solid, fuller version. Certainly the engaged high school audience I saw it with would have been able to sit still for it.

The students' relatively rapt attention-even latecomers seemed transfixed-wasn't just because of the contemporary touchstones used here. Those elements actually had mixed impact. Having the Prince present a "Mousetrap" home video to ensnare his uncle/stepfather falls flat. One of the production's highlights, though, is a silent moment in which an iPod is creatively-and sensibly-used to launch the Hamlet/Ophelia "Get thee to a nunnery" scene.

That the stripped-down IRT's upperstage production contains such flashes of beauty and moments of visual power is a credit to director Andrew Tsao and a game cast. Brian Noffke makes for a just-right Polonius (who seems to be more central to the action here than Claudius or Gertrude). Matthew Brumlow is as strong a Hamlet as we might expect in a production without much room for reflection. And the ghost is made visually compelling through "The Ring"-ish video.

If only they had more time.

(Note: While the production will primarily play to school groups, tickets are available to the paying public.)

Offered in English (with, yes, English supertitles), "The Magic Flute" felt less like grand opera and more like glorified children's theater in its recent Indianapolis Opera production at Clowes Hall.

That's not to knock Mozart's celebrated score, or the handling of it by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and a solidly professional vocal cast. But opera is more than a concert. And this production simply didn't create a world onstage that we want to bask in. With lackluster scenic design and aimless direction, the visuals simply didn't hold up their end of the glorious multi-sensory experience that opera can be-and that past Indianapolis Opera productions have been.

It certainly didn't help to have a show already heavy with spoken dialogue, presented in English, which put in sharp relief the difference between singers and singing actors. Alas, we have to wait until March for IO's "Tosca."

In concert at the Murat Egyptian Room Oct. 2, quirky pianist/guitarist/singer/songwriter Regina Spektor made a compelling case for Indianapolis to treasure WTTSFM 92.3. You might not like every song it plays, but you have to admire a broadcaster that can, almost singlehandedly, garner audiences for such difficult-to-categorize musical artists.

Russian-born Spektor, stunned that so many people in Indy have discovered and appreciate her music, came off onstage as a fascinating mix of Rickie Lee Jones, Laura Nyro and, occasionally, Tom Waits, with elements of Jacques Brel and Kurt Weill thrown in for good measure. With Spektor's penchant for riffing on words (and even syllables) and songs that confound the clap-alongers by switching gears mid-tune, the barely-over-an-hour set (plus encores) seemed clearly created by a person, not a marketing committee.

On a recent trip to Chicago (Occasionally, when I catch something out of town that I think is relevant to Indy audiences, I'll include it here) I caught Sarah Ruhl's "Passion Play" at the Goodman Theatre. Unwieldy, audacious and not entirely successful, each of the three parts of this three-and-a-half hour trilogy focused on a production of the passion play during different historical periods. To give you an idea of the scope, the same actor played Queen Elizabeth I in the first, Hitler in the second, and Ronald Reagan in the third.

While I'd quibble with some of the dramatic choices, my theatrical spirits occasionally require this kind of rejuvenation. With impeccable individual-but-committed-to-the-whole acting and haunting visuals, "Passion Play" felt like the rough draft of a masterpiece.
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