Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shakespeare Notebook: an Iranian Hamlet

Hamlet gets antic in
Hamlet, Prince of Grief at Under the Radar
Reza Ghaziani & Ehsan Matoori)

Leev Theater Group at Under the Radar
written by Mohammad Charmshir
directed by Mohammad Aghebati
January 12, 2013

Not Shakespeare's Hamlet, not an adaptation, yet this import from Tehran stays faithful to core elements of the tale. Partly the changes are a matter of format―it's a monologue of mourning, only 30 minutes and change―but more potently the revisions derive from a modern ethos and Persian worldview. The setting is contemporary Iran, where a billboard ad sells its product with the slogan “To Be Or Not To Be.” This existential statement couched in consumerist culture troubles the speaker, who's given to irony and analysis. He's also got a child-like streak, recounting his story by play-acting the roles with toys (uncle = T. Rex).

It's tough to peg what the show's saying about Iranian culture, since its social perspective has been encoded deeply enough that authorities have allowed its export. There's a sense that the mother's poisoning of the student's father (a significant switch from Shakespeare) is part of a political maneuver. And in fact, this Hamlet is darker even than Shakespeare's, since its protagonist gets shot in the back before consummating his revenge. The midnight-dark lighting plot, the toys-as-characters conceit, and the low-key performance of actor Afshin Hashemi all contribute to the play's oneiric quality, but it's the semi-conscious sensation of a culture gap that gives Hamlet its dreamlike character.


Hamlet, Prince of Grief played at the Public Theater, closed on Jan. 20. Sorry!


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