Monday, August 11, 2008

Fringe: Bound in a Nutshell

It's not as if Shakespeare needs to be adapted, but if you're going to, it'd better be something new, bold, truthful, or necessary. Bound in a Nutshell is all of these things, a modern 90-minute Hamlet that (like last year's brilliant Macbeth adaptation, A Walking Shadow) begins near the end (Hamlet having just killed Polonius), and then strikingly wends through Hamlet's mind. Imprisoned, Hamlet is now physically tortured, too, and remains on stage throughout. To do this, Gregory Sherman and Gregory Wolfe take liberties with the text, merging characters like First Player and Laertes with Horatio, repurposing the Gravedigger as a torturer (a nifty feat in redirection, Yorick and all), and excising comic characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

For fans of Hamlet, it's an exciting shakeup, but for strangers to Shakespeare, it's also one of the clearest tellings of this haunted tale, thanks largely to Chris Haas, whose Hamlet is violent yet fluid (like Bill Irwin). Wolfe's ingenious staging also plays each scene to its strength: his "too too solid flesh would melt" is defiantly delivered to a surveillance camera: for the first time, we see Claudius (Christopher Yates) and Gertrude (Kathy Keane) react to what is usually a secondhand account. There's restraint too: when Hamlet yells "get thee to a nunnery," his words go unheard and unfelt by Ophelia (Monique Vukovic), who sits helplessly on the other side of a prison visitation cell's solid glass window, begging her lover to pick up the phone. Best of all is the poetic license taken with the imagery: Hamlet, strapped to a chair, being tortured into a confession of madness, sees Ophelia--who has just drowned--walk slowly and silently by.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it's hard to keep from waxing poetic on Moonwork's fantastic production. This is what it means to adapt a play, and on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "not to be" and 5 being "wondrous strange," Bound in a Nutshell gets a perfect 5.

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