WOW Café Theater
If the fairest way to judge things is to consider outcomes against aims, then WOW Café Theater's take on Hamlet , Hamletango , is a success. That said, Susana Cook's production does not aim very high, but it would be churlish to look poorly on a production which includes not only some of the traditional elements of the play, such as a ghost and a skull, but also throws in a bit of undressing and sees the Avon lady as a temptress. Hamletango is not really a production of Hamlet , but rather uses that play as a springboard into a personal world which gives a very relaxed and enjoyable night out.
I fall into the school that thinks Hamlet the greatest play ever written, acknowledging how badly it is constructed - nothing happens until the last scene, and then everyone dies. WOW seems to have a similar attitude - sure, Hamlet 's great stuff, but let's not take all that angst too seriously. The fun of Susana Cook's very liberal interpretation starts before we get to the theater. The WOW Café Theater is down on Fourth Street, the elevator doesn't work, and we walk together up to the little theater on the fourth floor. Somehow there's a sense of camaraderie in the audience, everyone is friendly and informal. It's like we all share the secret of being cool enough to be seeing this show. Getting there early is fun, because we ended up having more people than seats, and watching the audience get to know each other as it spills on cushions onto the stage seems like part of the show. Actors walk around, say hello to their friends, peek from behind curtains.
Considering what we've been through since 1960, I think its fun to charge men $10 and women $7. You can use political hocus-pocus to justify such things, refer to disparate pay scales, but hell, why not charge women less at a women run space?
The show itself is informal, rambling and funny. It's not really theater, it's too friendly for that big word. It's like going to a friend's place, everyone gets a bit merry, we all dress-up and have fun. This type of thing often comes across as a bit self-indulgent, but not here because no-one takes themselves too seriously. If there is meant to be a feminist sub-current, it's a mature feminism that's comfortable with girls screaming at ghosts and bitching about their looks.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Hamletango's references to Hamlet are actually more insightful than may appear at first glance. Hamlet has been described as the first modern man, and his psychological musings and inability to act may be a bit of a masculine fixation - while men prance around wondering about the meaning of life women just get on with it, finding meaning in everyday things. Susanna Cook in the lead role in a very evenly-played production does have some funny soliloquies similar to the confused ramblings of a self-obsessed young fellow, but her sisterhood brings her back down to earth.
The fusing of the personal and political is a great theme of feminism, and potentially insightful when performing Shakespeare. Shakespeare speaks to us all, helps us understand who we are, and doing the plays in fancy dress is history not theater. Taking Hamlet and transcribing to a very personal space in itself reflects the validity of the feminist approach, personalising the great issues, as opposed to the classic male approach of pontificating about life while someone else does the cooking.
The feel of the show is very women-centred, there are no big dicks swinging in this Denmark. I hold high this soft and strong lesbianism, to me it seems a higher form of life which gives people the freedom to express and at the same time provides a safety net of emotional support. Men are hard and cruel - look at poor old Hamlet, who has two of his mates try and play him like a flute, and has only the ineffectual advice of Horatio for emotional support. Men's natural stance is adversarial, women's consensual, and I'm pretty clear which I prefer (of course, I am pontificating - I remain an unreconstructed competitive bastard). Men go through life alone, which is why we relate to Hamlet. If Hamlet had been a woman, he could have resolved all his difficulties in one afternoon's bitching session.
There's a lot in Hamletango that I haven't mentioned, partly because with this show the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Not everything works, but that's not the point. That the ghost is Hamlet's mother is pretty much expected, that she stands in the audience giggling at the pretend seriousness of her part makes any serious review superfluous. I liked the live and dead Ophelias, which is seriously funny, and the oblique reference to the weakness of that character in the original.
We each have a personal Hamlet , and some get lucky enough to share theirs with the world. Hamletango is Susana Cook's version, and while it's all a bit silly, you skip down the stairs at the end of the night, bemused at the thought of her upcoming production of Frankenstein , wondering if she'll bother with the monster.