Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: How Gertrude Got Her Cry Back

The classics in the literary canon always contain characters that desire to be explored deeper. And many authors take on the oft-difficult challenge. PTP/NYC, the producing powerhouse of Howard Barker's work presents Barkers take on the Hamlet saga, bringing Gertrude, the titular character's adulterating mother, front and center.
In Gertrude- The Cry, Barker explores Gertrude's motives all the while painting other characters in a new light and creating new figures in Hamlet's world. Gertrude takes on a new persona as the puppet master, manipulating Claudius and going toe to toe against her mother-in-law Isola. Is it possible that Gertrude is a power hungry menace who manipulates her way to the top? Barker’s Gertrude seems to have shades of Lady Macbeth. By pulling focus on Gertrude and discovering her deeper side, Barker offers a new perspective to the source material. Sure, previous knowledge of the Bard's classic is helpful, Gertrude still has the ability to stand on its own.  While some of the liberties Barker takes may confusion Hamlet aficionados, it's still an intriguing script, sexy and provocative and never afraid to shock.
photo courtesy of Stan Barouh
PTP/NYC employs a majority of company favorites in the ensemble while integrating new blood in the mix. Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude brings a audacious new version to the previously quiet character. For the first time, we see her as perhaps a villain, using Claudius as her minion. Robert Emmet Lunney's Claudius is pained, like a puppy dog for Gertrude. His moments of unrequited love are the strongest, bringing a new humanity to the villain. Kathryn Kates as the strong maternal figure Isola is captivating and commanding. Her well-rounded performance is one of the best on stage. As Hamlet, David Barlow channels a Jim Carey-esque vibe. His road to insanity takes on a whole new meaning. Meghan Leathers as the Ophelia-like Ragusa is sprightly, shining with her physicality. Bill Army as Albert seemed to have been lost in a completely different world than his cast mates.  Though the variance of acting styles made the overall intention a bit muddled, Richard Romagnoli's direction was lively and engaging. Even Romagnoli's transitions, aided by Cormac Bluestone's high octane music, were full of life. Mark Evancho's rep set, using elements in PTP/NYC's other production, works wonders for Castle Elsinore. Danielle Nieves’ costume design was sleek and modern with a cohesive color pallet, occasionally bringing the effective pop of color. Despite some actors unable to find their light and the occasional blinding of the audience via the mirror late in Act II, Hallie Zieselman’s lights set a distinct mood for the play.
Howard Barker's extensive catalogue of work is known for its vulgar language and themes, yet Gertude- the Cry may be one of his more accessible works. For fans of adaptations with a touch of intellect, this play is for you. I guarantee you will never see Hamlet's Gertrude the same ever again.