Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hamlet hearts you

Hamletomanes, Portland has been good to you this winter. First CoHo Productions mounted a revelatory slenderizing of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, adapted by Chris Murray and directed by Kristan Seemel, using just five actors and running at a scant two hours (and running through February 20, by the way), that turned the classic into a rollercoaster ride. And now Portland author Myrlin A. Hermes (yes, that’s her real name, okay?) turns the tale inside out with her latest novel, The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet.

Ms. Hermes dazzling sleight of hand is to give us the events that led up to the part of the Hamlet’s life familiar to us from the Bard’s version -- much of which is seen through the eyes of a student comrade of the Prince’s, better known to us as Horatio. From his perspective, much in Shakespeare’s play that begs question is answered here, often incidentally. Why was Hamlet so peremptory with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? How did Hamlet’s royal father come to be napping alone in an orchard when death came creeping up on him, and what exactly was the poison? Did Ophelia know more than she let on? And who exactly was this Yorick that Hamlet (alas) knew so well? Even “Polonius” turns out to be a snarky nickname that explains a great deal indeed.

What makes all this so much fun is that the author insinuates these revelations so subtly that you find yourself saying: of course, now I understand. Without changing Shakespeare a jot, Ms. Hermes utterly alters our understanding of what back story (in her fevered imagination) informs characters’ actions, attitudes, and even specific utterances. In this way her book takes its place with revisionary works of fiction such as Wicked and The Wind Done Gone.

While already knowing Hamlet, or The Wizard of Oz, or Gone with the Wind will heighten your appreciation for their descendants, in all cases this isn’t actually necessary to love any of these novels -- such is the power of excellent writing and a story well told.

BONUS: Myrlin A. Hermes reads from The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet at Powell’s Bookstore TONIGHT at 7:30 pm. I’ll be there, but of course! If the author’s histrionic skills bear any correspondence to her storytelling talent, I expect a compelling evening.


Chris 'Frog Queen' Davis said...

Sounds fantastic. I much rather be there than at the very entertaining meeting with ODOT that I will be attending tonight :)

I will definately head to Powells this weekend and pick up the book.


nicole said...

Hi Mead! I feel the need to point out that while the CoHo Production of Hamlet does indeed run close to two hours (not counting intermission), we're advertising the show as two and a half hours long. Wouldn't want anyone to be surprised/late when we get out!

Hamlet's stage manager.

Mead said...

Thanks for clarifying, Nicole -- speaking as someone who always wants to know exactly when a show gets out. I've always admired that London listings actually publish start and end times. Which I suppose is important when many of your patrons arrive by tube, but I wish we did it here as well.

MightyToyCannon said...

Thanks for the recommendation, which I finally got around to following. What a fun read this was, especially following closely (relatively speaking) on the heels of Mr. Murray's fine portrayal of the troubled Dane at Coho.