Monday, November 2, 2009

Hamlet and the Met

My friend Marcia was in town from Minnesota, so we used my corporate ID and visited the Met gratis. On the advice of a museum-savvy friend, we were determined to see the Vermeer exhibit. Unfortunately, a great many other people were also seeing the Vermeer exhibit, making it almost impossible to get a clear view of the paintings. What we could see was thrilling. I’m not a big fan of static exhibits – that is, the still visual arts as opposed to performing arts – but seeing original Vermeers up close was a startling pleasure. No reproduction in any medium can do justice to the colors, to the lure of the light source in each painting. And looking at the similar paintings grouped in the exhibit, Vermeer still stands alone.

However, those glorious colors were obfuscated by too many people. Marcia and I were happier with the marvelous Egyptian wing. It’s immense, it’s always there, and in one afternoon’s visit you cannot make a dent.

The Egyptian wing is quietly accessible, simple and remarkable. I wondered as I wandered if any of the ‘art’ of the 20th - 21st centuries could weather over 3000 years as these pieces of history have. Imagine the extraordinary few of those days with the good and frightening fortune to create masterworks of painting, sculpture, architecture, and engineering while the majority were relegated to picking, pushing, pulling, dragging and hauling. The work has survived, colors fresh and vibrant, details amazing. For those of modern times not among the fortunate few who work for their art and not at any subsistence jobs, remember this: After you design, execute, and decorate a temple, you will not be buried underneath it!


  • The golden sandals that would be a bitch to wear in the summer’s heat -- yes, I can be that dense. It took me several minutes to realize the gold sandals were reserved for the dead. Never mind.
  • The ‘dollhouses’, the toys, the entire villages and ships created in miniature to populate the tombs. Those have lasted all these years so we can marvel at them. The living in Egypt did not have that opportunity after all, since these survived because they were sealed in airless sepulchers.
  • The colors, preserved, on the transported walls, the statues, the metalwork. To hell with paint chips, I must go back for postcards to save for the next paint job at home.
  • Around each corner we marvelled at the precision, the delicacy, and extraordinary imagination required to create beauties & horrors, dreams & nightmares.

Mind you, I can always do without mummies and statues. I dislike life-size and slightly larger than life statuary. Creepifying. Put me in mind of the stadtmuzeum across the strasse from the laundromat in Göttingen, Germany. There my minimal German was insufficient to read the legends on the exhibits in a room of mostly photos, black-and-white WW2 era, that appeared to be concentration camp survivors. Nonetheless, I could figure it out. They were photos of survivors of camps, but they were German survivors of Soviet camps. Nowhere in that museum of this university town were the German concentration camps mentioned.

Escaping from that appalling room, I stumbled into a long gallery of statues mounted on pedestals. Not Aryan, more like Norse god figures. Larger than life, but human. Creepifying.

Statues. Bah.

Note: yes of course my laundry was still where I left it, safe, no watchers needed there. It was Germany.

Back to NYC October 2009. We took the 79 crosstown bus to the B’way IRT, then had a pleasant dinner at “Room Service,” a Thai restaurant on 8th Avenue. It may not have been better than the many others along 8th Avenue in the 40s, but it was much prettier. From there we moved on to Hamlet at the Broadhurst. My second time, Marcia’s first.

I had looked forward to seeing the play a second time, assuming I’d see changes, the cast moving into a comfort zone, building upon the solid story-telling it had already accomplished. Alas, the performance felt as if it hadn’t progressed in the three and a half weeks since I saw the play in previews. Geraldine James had found her footing (OK, her lines, all of them), but she still hadn’t created a memorable, distinct Gertrude. Claudius was not any better than he had been -- I still want to see Richard Johnson again. Nor had Laertes gained any depth, although his final scene with Hamlet does work. Horatio seemed to have stepped back into the shadows, when I wanted more of him. And Ophelia was just as bad as she had been, and the underscoring of her song in the ‘mad scene’ was just as infuriating.

Second time around, the still excellent Jude Law stood out in a way he oughtn’t. Yes, he’s Hamlet in Hamlet. That doesn’t mean the rest of the characters who people the story should be drawn in duller colors. So what’s that about? Direction. The same man who underscored Ophelia’s mad song must have directed the actors to give Law stage, when Law is perfectly capable of taking it if he wants it and seems rather to wish to share it. Calling Michael Grandage: Empower the rest of your cast to challenge Mr. Law. They’ll have more fun, and so will the audience.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Thanks for stopping by.

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