Hamlet Variations

 I

The curtain needs to rise on a mass of darkness. Not the kind that chokes your breath the moment you release it. Or amputates your outstretched hands because it is so close to you. Not, in other words, a dark that disembodies. But a lesser dark if there is such a thing. One in which your eyes may adjust. To the mass of stairs on the barely revealed stage. Stairs that stretch in pyramids. Seemingly interrupted in their climb. There is still no sense of light as we expect it on stage. Just an ambient glow. From an unknown source. Like the creeping in of a crippled dawn.

This is when you hear the crutches. You hear them before you see them. Metal clearly because of the hollow sound. Metal also because their grating progress strikes the stairs like a hammer. Albeit a labored attack. And realization hits you that it isn’t wood. All your stairs on stage have been wood. This one is metal. Perhaps hollow. For every step echoes.

The crutches brighten. And you begin to see the lame legs. The dark that did not amputate the hands has shown no mercy to the legs. They appear severed at the knees. The actor steps out of the shadows on to a glowing rusted iron stairway. This is when you realize that the staircases are all upside down. The pyramids have been inverted. The actor now begins the slow climb down. To what would have been the top of the staircase but is in fact the pit at the center of the amphitheater. Something harsh and powerful with the swish of a whiplash strikes the white and you realize even as you blink that a powerful beam of light has struck her dead. Ophelia in her customary white. Still.

Hamlet. Abandoning his crutches. Bends down and cradles her. Tender. And confused. Begins to murmur into her dead ears. Whispering. His throat rusted with the bitter metal taste of sorrow.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.

II

On this bare stage. Made stark by my words. I shatter the dark. By a beam deliberate. In white made slightly less. Harsh. Then the kind that blinds. For this too has a purpose. It wishes to reveal that which lies beneath the actor’s mask. Not the mask of the made up face. I speak of the face as mask. The facelessness of the mask that the actor wears. On his face. Just before his words will lay bare. Make stark. His intent. The insecure lines that lie beneath the spoken ones. Just beneath. Like a silhouette of the real. For this is Hamlet. Making his entrance from a wing. Placed so far stage left that it merges with its own. Shadow. The one that is beneath the silhouette. Hidden. The light is placed in the wings. Each spot in tandem but controlled separately. So that the designer can play with the face and the head full of hair with different degrees of intensity. Depending on the mood of the actor. Or the pitch of his delivery. The words will find solace in light. Light that will reflect them. The words. That lie below. Waiting. For their cue. Unsure of its coming. But one needs to be in readiness. Who can tell when the actor will choose to speak them. Words at the edge of time. The cue. The pause before an enthralled audience. The moment that captivates. Holds like rivets. The fascination of an audience. Waiting. For their cue. To be pulled into the performance. Or to be left out. In the cold. Disappointed.

Who can tell if at all. The actor. Will speak them. Or let them fall between the pauses. Sinking. Into a silence.

 

III

Memory. Remembrance of things as they were. More importantly as they could have been. Having happened. Taken place. And then ‘happening’ and ‘taking place’, even as I write, in the reservoir of my mind. My emotions betraying a strong impulse to revisit them as only I can. Through the lens of my wishful thoughts.

The curtain goes up on a dark stage. Nothing new that. Nor the fact that it is Hamlet being staged. But the dark expands itself into the audience. Like the uncontrollable fog that envelops the heath. The red of the exit signs is off. As is the line of floor lights to illuminate the aisles. There is no music nor sound. Just the dark. Stifling and strangling. The comfort of a restless audience beginning to reveal signs of anxiety.

The dark refusing to go away. A directorial whim? Perhaps.

Then. A sound as sharp as a shriek. Piercing the dark. Both audibly and visually. The tearing of a strip of large 6-inch-wide tape from one end of the stage to another. Revealing a sharply glowing white. Like the white that a headlight catches as it bisects the road. Narrow but accurate in its geometry. More and more strips. Like screams that die while trying to escape. The stage takes on an eerie appearance. White crisscrossing the black. As if by magic the floor is bisected over and over by the white lines. Like a chess board out of Alice. Askew. Drunken. At tangents to the moves you make.

And then the glowing white catches a torso. A shirt with loose full sleeves and no legs. Floating into our consciousness. First as voice. Then. A face. Glowing. From the reflective white of the lines. We hear the words our memory has already etched into our consciousness.

to be or not to be

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