October 15th, 2009
Classical Theatre Company: One-Man Hamlet at HITS
In 6 Words: One-man, Soliloquy, Derangement, Theatre, Comedic, Dramatic
Everyone is familiar with “Hamlet.” We’ve read it in high school, studied it in college and have at one point or another uttered it’s most famous lines. Shakespeare has been with us since the day we saw Bugs Bunny don a jerkin and hose, hold up a skull in one hand and ask that famous question (or, if you prefer a nod to Billy Madison). The references to one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays have been frequent in pop culture from six-minute cartoons to full-length movie adaptations. No matter what you’re most notable impression of “Hamlet” has been, Classical Theatre Company’s one-man production will forever change your perspective.
I heard about the plans for the Classical Theatre Company to produce Hamlet sometime in the Summer. This should have given me plenty of time to prepare for tonight, but I still feel late to the show — late and under-dressed to be more specific. I have managed to leave most of my professional clothes at my temporary home in (almost) Katy. They haven’t made the trip back inside the loop. Luckily, my sister (the proprietor of my transient residence) was easily convinced to attend the opening weekend show in the Heights and is waiting on the street with a pair of my misplaced loafers.
After a quick change in footwear we walk up to the front of the venue where my sister’s boyfriend waits by the door scanning the playbill. We shake hands and slip inside the entrance. There are advantages to being fashionably late, unfortunately a play with a defined start time is not one of them. I’ve given myself a measly five minutes to purchase my ticket ($15), exchange pleasantries and find seats within the darkened theater.
I’m more excited about seeing the CTC’s one-man version of the Hamlet than anticipated. We pull down our plush seats and take in our domain. There are a smattering of people present, no more than 30 scattered throughout the theater, legs crossed, hands folded with a playbill resting at the ready on their knees for the most part. The set is an organized disaster. Metallic props of sink, toilet, two chairs and a cot are laid out purposefully, but the ground around them is littered with fanatic chalk scribblings that give the feeling of complete derangement.
As John Johnston, the Classical Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, stands at the front of the stage to address the audience in attendance, the show begins. I don’t mean that as a point of reference, but as reality. Johnston is going over the basics about the CTC and the observation about to be presented, he struggles to get out his last few points because a disheveled man dressed in all white, blond hair awry, bounds up to the stage and embraces him in a bear hug. First impressions, as they say, are most important. In this case it’s impressive just how touched in the head this newcomer to the stage seems.
Turning the pages of the playbill quickly before the lights fade I come across the cast of characters and a truly unique sight: All 17 roles have been attributed to Guy Roberts. He is not Hamlet. He is “Hamlet,” the play itself. A weighty task it is to memorize the lines of one character (I have trouble remembering my family members’ birthdays), but to memorize over an hour’s worth of dialogue is mind-blowing. Roberts shows he’s up to the undertaking immediately twisting and turning around the small stage hitting the different marks all the while never breaking the flow of the lines. He is choreographing an intricate dance with no partner but himself (or his alter-egos).
The stage is sparse but Roberts uses the most of what’s allotted. Cups play the roles of Claudius, Laertes and Polonius at one point; at others the two chairs on stage serve as substitute anthropomorphic props. Each line is injected with a little bit of levity. “Hamlet” has a heavy resolve, but consider viewing it as the production of a singular mental patient. You can tell that the audience is drawn into the character(s) on stage and his message. However, with each tic and idiosyncrasy by Roberts it seems like I’m stifling laughter, unsure whether or not it’s proper to find humor in someone who can not control their mental constitution.
If I were more well versed in the theatrical arts I would have been slightly better prepared for tonight. I find myself making note after mental note to remember certain lines. They are each delivered with a flourish. As Roberts (more specifically, his character) settles into the production, things have changed. Almost as if he is now comfortable with us watching his performance.
He takes a turn at becoming more interactive with the audience. It culminates with him coming to the front of the stage and taking a seat with his feet in the aisle, taking on the title-character’s role and his most famous soliloquy. He begins, “to be…” and trails off, looking around at the patrons. Again, “to be…” he says, once again looking around at the rest of us more determined. Exasperated, he attempts one more time signaling to the crowd to finish the lines with him which we eventually do (though, I think that some of us wanted to remain silent to see how the character in front of us would deal with such rejection). Once sated in our ability to recite, Roberts dives into the rest, boiling it down to a soft-spoken, heartfelt speech, not the over-dramatic rendition (at least I) expected.
Roberts continues to deliver a mesmerizing performance as to sink into the story and this wild man in front of me more than anything else. At some point I forget that my miniature notebook is in my lap and pen resting between my fingers, solely indulging in the antics. The comedic intertwines with the dramatic until the two are difficult to separate. Smiles quickly turn to looks of shock and back again before we as the audience know how to react. It becomes more of a reaction than a rational act. At this point I’m keenly aware that we have become an extension of Roberts’ character with no fear whatsoever of partaking in the delirium.
The play crescendos for a final time and the lights come back on and bows are made by one. The standing ovation is just and deserved as Guy Roberts takes his bows. The Classical Theatre Company seem to have outdone themselves this time around. My party heads toward the stairs in the aisle and I dutifully follow them up and into the lobby. I find John Johnston and shake his hand, congratulating him on a production well done, but there is no Guy Roberts in sight. Perhaps he’s taking a moment to revel in his victory… Perhaps he just needs time to shake the “crazy” he just tapped into.
I can only say one thing in conclusion. “Hamlet” closes on the 18th of October. You need to make the trip to the Heights before the run ends.
Where – 311 W 18th Street, Houston, TX 77008 (View Map)
What – “Hamlet” as You Have Never Seen Before
Wear – Class It Up A Little… It’s the Theatre
Who – The Theatrically Inclined and Those Expanding Horizons
How Much – $15 Adult
When – Thursday-Sunday 7:30 p.m. (Last Show is the 18th!!)
Web – www.classicaltheatre.org
Facebook – www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112291536699