There have been countless interpretations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but this summer Torn Out Theater has presented perhaps the boldest version and at the same time also the truest to the character. After all, Hamlet himself wrote to Claudius: “High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom”, – to which he confirmed: “‘Tis Hamlet’s character. ‘Naked!'” You may argue that there is no need for such literal interpretation, but through this production, Torn Out Theater aims to draw attention to “fraught, complex world of male body image”.
The cast is all male, which is actually in accord with the theatrical tradition in Shakespearian times. In this respect, last year’s performance of ‘The Tempest‘ with an all-female cast was even more revolutionary. If the Tempest was played by amateurs (mostly from the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp fiction Appreciation Society), this year’s production features professional actors. Jake Austin Robertson did amazing job playing Hamlet, in my opinion (and I heard the same from other spectators), and as he reveled in the press release at Pix11, nudity might have helped: “It’s a means of discovering his own truth and figuring out who he is regardless of whatever everyone else wants him to be”. However, not all actors in the play were naked, and those who were – for various periods of time. It seemed like nakedness was used as a tool to show that the character revealed his true colors, especially in emotional moments. This may be a pretty good theatrical tool to keep the audience engaged, given that there are studies showing that people are more compassionate and empathic when they see images of naked people compared to clothed people (not to mention saving money on costumes). Actors, on the other hand, get an additional way to express themselves – with the body language (and probably even without realizing it) – as such features as tension of the muscles or subtle changes in the posture would usually be concealed by costume. All this certainly worked for [spoiler alert! but you probably know the storyline to some extent anyway] the brilliantly choreographed fight scene between Hamlet and Laertes, or the final scene of Hamlet dying in the arms of Horatio.
So, you could (should!) see it all for yourself this weekend in Prospect Park in Brooklyn or in the beginning of September in Central Park. While the more known Public Theater features Hamlet “running around in his underpants“, our advice is to check out Torn Out Theater that goes all the way! Moreover, the performance is also free of charge (but donations are encouraged). Arrive earlier to get better seating; only limited amount of chairs is available for rent – but the atmosphere has a nice picnic vibe to it, so seating on the grass is what most people opt for. Overall, it is a great idea to have this performance in the parks out in the open, which makes this theater truly public. Compared to the famous ‘Shakespeare in the Park’, this is a much more intimate, immersive show… and who knows, maybe at some point there will be a show where the audience can be naked too. This is what is going to happen during the rock musical ‘Hair’ in London.
It would be good to hear opinions of people involved in theater professionally, so feel free to leave comments here. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure there will be some coverage form a couple of major outlets soon.