REVIEW: To See or Not to See

The Rude Mechanicals’ creative interpretation of the Shakespeare classic, Hamlet, was refreshing. It was done at the beautiful Mendelssohn Theatre, where the actors did not even need microphones. I have never seen a Shakespeare play performed live and I am glad to say that it was a wonderful experience.

The play was set to the 1960s-based show, Mad Men, and it was expressed the importance of sharp suits for men and elegant dresses for women. This also reflected the uptight personalities of some of the characters in Hamlet, such as Claudius (Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Hamlet’s deceiving school friends). I was a bit skeptical of the thought of Hamlet in a totally different era and location, but the interpretation was perfect.

The sounds the play was set to were interesting too because there were certain themes for different characters, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The set was brilliant as well because it really captured the essence of a big city and it was versatile for the needs of each scene. The director’s note explains the concept of her idea very well, mentioning that most of the characters in Hamlet are held to certain standards and they try to follow the norms and that is why it was possible to relate the play to Mad Men, a show where the characters seem perfect and successful to society, but are crumbling within. The character Hamlet was portrayed a bit differently than my impression of him from reading the play. In the Mad Men setting, he seemed suave and confident, whereas I always thought of him as timid and a bit awkward in some regards. However, Hamlet’s lines in the play have a very confident air since he often goes against the status quo and is not afraid to wittily insult characters that do not understand his veiled criticisms. In Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia, who could be classified as Hamlet’s love interest, is used as a tool for those concerned with Hamlet to observe his behaviors. Therefore, the Mad Men version of Ophelia was great because women were seen as objects in the setting of the show, but they still play vital roles in the plot of the story. So, although Ophelia was used by Polonius, Claudius, and Gertrude, she was also necessary to unravel the mysteries of Hamlet’s emotions. Her deterioration over the course of the play was wonderfully portrayed by the actress (Jacqueline Toboni). The actor who played Hamlet (Kris Reilly) was not afraid to use his body to capture the confidence and strangeness of Hamlet and so he did a great job doing actions that could make other players seem uncomfortable. Overall, the idea was solid and the play turned out very well. This is a must see if you are a fan of Shakespeare or want to see the interesting concept of Mad Men versus Hamlet.

Review: Neither Mad Nor Sad

This weekend I went to the Rude Mechanicals’ production of Hamlet at the Mendelssohn Theater. I love seeing Shakespeare performed live. It gets so much funnier and more emotional. Reading his plays, I always get lost. All the names are similar and there are no faces to match them to. But on stage! Everything comes to life. Every character has wit and style. Even the words seem clearer. I just love it. Last year I saw the Shakespeare Globe Theater here at UofM and couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing.

Another thing I like about seeing Shakespeare is seeing what the director added. In this version of Hamlet, there was supposed to be a Mad Men theme, and there was, sort of. I feel like it only went into the costumes. Different themes and settings are often added to these plays. For example (though I use it only because it is more accessible than live shows), the Leo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet uses Shakespeare’s words, but in a modern day setting and adding countless technologies to the plot. A long sword becomes a gun (with the brand name Long Sword), a carriage becomes a car, and many lines in the play correspond to the theme. In this aspect, this play didn’t utilize the theme. There was really only one example of it, besides the costumes, which was the use of a condom for a joke. But that’s really all beside the point anyway.

The play was well acted and produced. I think the casting choice for Hamlet was perfect. He was, firstly a great actor and speaker, and secondly he understood what to do with the character. How to make him mad with grief in just the right way. I was a little disappointed in the overall play though. The plot of Hamlet is well known, so I won’t explain it, but we all know it is a tragedy. And though Shakespeare does add a lot of comedy to his tragedies, he does it tastefully and sparingly. This show took comedy to a whole new level. Although it was funny, it took a lot away from the character development and the depth of the play. When Hamlet bests Laertes and accidently kills him, he should not victoriously get on top of him and starting beating him with fists. It’s very comedic, and since it is the most tragic scene in the play… it was strange.

Overall though, I really enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend seeing it. It’s great to see these students working so hard to put together something like this. And it gives them a great opportunity, one that I truly miss, of being on stage. I know that these actors absolutely loved the drama that the play allowed them to create. There is one more show, and it is today at 2pm. So Sunday, 06 November 2011 at 2pm. Only $3 for students!

Sending you love and light (and luck for the piles of homework we all have),

Danny Fob

Review: Watt is happening?

This Saturday night I went to the Gate Theater of Dublin production of Beckett’s two plays, Watt and Endgame, at the Power Center. Now anyone who reads my posts (you are there, aren’t you?) knows how crazy I am about the Power Center. I absolutely love it and every

show that goes on inside of it. Right away I knew the show would be a good one. I also went to The Cripple of Inishmaan last year, another play from Ireland, so I hoped this one would be similarly funny, strange, and existential. It totally was.


Watt tells the story of a drifter of sorts and his brief stay and work at a house. That sounds really general, but that is really all I can say. That’s really what it was about. This one-man show was funny and very well acted. Barry McGovern is a wonderful performer who can pull off incredibly funny and very serious simultaneously. Of course you have to remember that the humor here is very dry and you have to have a taste for it to actually find it funny (think of British humor). The staging is very minimalist, and I felt that the lighting was more of a prop than the chair or hat-rack. The lights seemed to make the stage glow with a warm yellow light. I really enjoyed this reading, though I think it will take some time to understand some of these deeper concepts that Beckett writes about.

Upon returning to our seats, the lights went down once more. This is when I start hearing people whisper, all around me, “I’m so confused. That was so confusing.” It was kind of funny to hear hear everyone struggling. That’s sounds mean, but really they just needed to contemplate for a while and then they would understand. I had been confused too, but I wasn’t stressing over it. I knew I would get it later and that I had to shift focus to the next play.


Endgame, complete with four characters, proved to be even funnier. Only one character was actually capable of moving around, as two were confined to large metal trashcans and the other to an armchair. Clove, the mobile servant, takes orders from the seated man, who becomes increasingly more violent and demanding of Clove. Their lives, if they can be called that, are fallen into routine, but a routine of nothing happening. Clove keeps going back to the windows to look at the world outside and to tell the seated man that nothing has changed. They come to the conclusion that there is only one thing left that can change, and that is dying. One at a time, they start dying off. Until Clove is getting ready to leave forever and the seated protagonist is giving his last monologue, his dying speech. He finishes the story he’s been making up and slowly lifts a veil back over his face. Breaking the fourth wall in the closing sequence of this show is very important. The actors are subtle in commenting on the fact that we are finding joy in their sorrows. It really brought us back to the seriousness and the extreme poverty shown on stage.

I really enjoyed Beckett’s style. It allowed us to watch without the continuous pauses for the audience to stop clapping. The only sound any of us made was when we couldn’t silence our laughter. He also created a world where only the scene on stage existed. Whenever a character would have an idea to change something, like meeting new people, Clove would say “There are no more people.” Nothing except their lives could possible exist on stage, not even as an idea.
It was wonderful, and I don’t want to talk your ear of trying to understand the deeper meanings of the plays, so here is where I get off. I fully endorse the decision to go and see plays from the British Isles. The humor is unique, the actors are brilliant, and the writing is intricate. It is a great experience, and one that we shouldn’t miss when we’re here on campus. Where else can we see stuff like this?

Sending you love and light,

Danny Fob

p.s. “Sending you love and light” is a quote from my favorite TV show. If you can figure it out, I’ll give you five points. Or buy you a coffee

Preview: Falstaff

Falstaff, opera by Giuseppe Verdi, will be opening at the University of Michigan on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 at 7:30pm in the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Verdi’s last opera, written in his 9th decade of life, explores what can happen when an over-the-hill bon vivant solicits two married ladies. The show will be sung in Italian with English projections and will be under the direction of Joshua Major. Student tickets for the show are $10 and can be purchased in the League Ticket Office.

PREVIEW: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan will be performing at the Power Center on Friday October 21st and Saturday October 22nd at 8 p.m. The company will perform Water Stains on the Wall, artistic director Lin Hwai-min’s newest piece. The work is a metaphor for the exquisite beauty of Chinese calligraphy, the dancers’ movement like flowing ink on pure rice paper. With dancers trained not only in ballet and modern dance, but also tai chi, meditation, and Chinese opera movement, the unique quality and control of the movement is sure to be breathtakingly ethereal.

For tickets visit the UMS website:

And to get a taste of the art of Chinese calligraphy before seeing the show, come to the Power Center from 7-7:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday to work with local calligraphers.

Clip: Water Stains on the Wall

Review: Little Women, An Opera?

Yes folks, Little Women, the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, has gone from book to play, musical, movie, and Opera. The Libretto was written by Mark Adamo and performed by UofM’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance at Mendelssohn Theatre in the League. I had

never read the novel, but since I love the operas presented here at the University, I went to see how it turned out. This past weekend the only day I had free was Thursday, so I went then and thouroughly enjoyed the show.

Like all the operas at the university, this one had subtitles projected above the stage so that we could all understand the libretto. Even though it was sung in English, it was still hard to hear exactly what they were saying through the vibrato and the many operatic accents that make classic operas what they are.

I loved the story of the show. Though I’ve never read the novel Little Women, I am now planning on reading it this summer. It’s the story of 4 sisters and their best friend and the process of change that cannot be stopped, no matter how hard you try in life. One sister gives up so much just so that her family won’t change, and in the end it just leads to her regretting and realizing her mistakes. It’s a harsh lesson, but an important one to learn and understand. Another theme the story touches on is that of art verses entertainment. Jo begins to sell out on her story writing because people will pay her for trashy stories. Her artistic talent is pushed to the wayside until a suitor made her question it and learn to embrace her originality and creativity.

The performers were wonderfully talented, providing us with just the right amount of humor and depth. We laughed often at the clever comedy and at the reenactments of childhood memories, and then cried as the changes of the characters’ lives emerged. I think that the School of Music, Theater, and Dance has found another magnificent production and by making it their own they’ve connected with audiences and families from all over Ann Arbor. This show receives an A+ from me.

As always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer