Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Mirror Scenes in "Hamlet, Prince of Grief"
Last week in class we read and discussed Oliver Taplin’s chapter on mirror scenes from Greek Tragedy in Action. In our society’s current entertainment milieu, saturated with CGI and multi-million-dollar special-effects blockbusters, we sometimes forget the bare power of simple theatrical techniques such as verbal and visual repetition. Taplin notes how effective such techniques can be in Greek tragedy, emphasizing that when you have a repeated stage image in a play, the meaning is often found in analyzing the differences between the two scenes.
This past weekend, I saw a play at the BYU International Theater Festival that brought home to me the efficacy of a well-performed scene of repetition. The play was a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet entitled Hamlet, Prince of Grief, performed by the Leev Theater Group from Iran. The single actor in the show, Afshin Hashemi, put in a powerful performance (also a reminder that good theater doesn’t necessarily need a lot of actors). The mirror scenes in question bookend the play at the beginning and end. As Taplin points out, it is only when you see the second pair of a mirror scene that you realize that there is a repetition, which causes you to reassess the scene you have previously witnessed and look for differences between the previous scene and the one currently displayed before your eyes. In case you have the chance to see it in the future, I don’t want to give away too much about the ending of Hamlet, Prince of Grief, but I will say that the mirror scene in question comes at the point in the Hamlet story at which Hamlet organizes the famous play-within-a-play that depicts the death of the king in front of the court. In the Leev Theater Group’s version, when the actor starts into the play-within-a-play, he repeats the lines and the blocking of the opening scene of play, with a few subtle differences, which leads the audience to understand that they have been watching the play-within-a-play all along. The full force of the repetition, however, lies in the difference between the two scenes, which I won’t reveal here for fear of spoiling it. Go see the play if you have the chance, and bask in the power of a simple, well-executed theatrical technique that is as old as tragedy itself.