Blithe Spirit has been such a witty whirlwind that things got a little behind in the Hamlet department around here. As a result, here’s a belated combo blog, featuring impressions from a lunch the marketing department had with director Liesl Tommy, notes from the first rehearsal day Meet & Greet and table reading, and photos from the Meet & Greet. Notes by Director of Marketing Janet Magleby; blog by Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem; photos by Marketing Intern Marivie Koch (view the full set here).
Liesl Tommy grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, with her brother, Kurt (yes, both of them are named after characters in The Sound of Music). She has lost many people in her life—one roughly every ten years—and therefore her ancestors and their spirits are of crucial importance to the director. “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop exploring the way the dead and their spirits effect my thinking,” she told us. ”Even in the production Party People (the story of the Black Panther Party, produced earlier this year at Oregon Shakespeare Festival —ed.) I changed a character—made him dead.”
This is the door through which Tommy, her set and costume designer (and frequent collaborator) Clint Ramos, and the rest of the Hamlet team is entering the venerated tale of Hamlet: as if entering a haunted version of Shakespeare’s world, a place where the dead pile up, wherein being a survivor is a position of dubious triumph. Tommy and Ramos took early inspiration from a New York Times photo spread on the abandoned homes of busted Mexican drug lords, then places like Saddam Hussein’s palace and Mike Tyson’s mansion. ”We decided the story needed to happen on this emotional level,” said Ramos on the first day of rehearsal. “The set needed to contain violence, confusion, and solitude. We looked at places that were post power, pre-ruin. This is a place that was not allowed to die.” Ramos’ clothes for this production are modern, but not contemporary: Slim suits, long dresses, a palette of grays, blacks, and blues with shots of color. And Jake Rodriguez’s soundtrack will include R&B ballads—music that delivers pure emotion.
Hamlet is played by LeRoy McClain, who Tommy has also worked with before, and of whom she says, “I trust him with my life.” In a New York restaurant, she told us, they sat and talked about Hamlet all day—through three consecutive meals. McClain’s first-day script-reading was almost completely from memory, eyes closed but tones smoking with wide-open anger; Tommy’s idea of the title character is poetic and romantic, sad and violent, and—like the empty pool that takes up much of Ramos’ set—unsatisfied. “I love everything to do with water.” said Tommy. “Water is romantic, dangerous, and beautiful.” The pool, she says, is “in a state of unfulfilled function and purpose, like Hamlet himself.”
“We are going to have an adventure together,” said Tommy that first day of rehearsal. And indeed, we all left the room that day with a combination of anticipatory chills and fevered fascination with this stellar cast and with Tommy’s unique, provocative vision.