Hamlet “trilogy” at Shakespeare Tavern

The empty stage at the Shakespeare Tavern
The empty stage at the Shakespeare Tavern

Of all the plays that Shakespeare wrote, Hamlet is arguably the best known. Many consider it the greatest tragedy ever penned. Many quotes we still use today come from Shakespeare, and many come from Hamlet. I saw the play Friday night at Atlanta’s New Shakespeare Tavern, located on Peachtree, on the border of midtown and downtown Atlanta. It’s playing in repertory (June 9, 13, 15, 21 & 23) alongside two other plays based on Hamlet, giving you a special chance to see what this great play has spawned in other authors.

Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, 2Rotating with Shakespeare’s Hamlet is Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (June 8, 14, 16, 20 & 22). Following that is a presentation of Fortinbras by Lee Blessing, playing June 29 to July 14, 2013.

I’ll describe the three plays below, but first a few brief comments on last night’s performance. This lengthy play (it needs two intermissions!) hangs and falls on the strength of the title character, played by the exceedingly handsome Jonathan Horne. While he did occasionally allow the character to become maudlin and whiny, one must admit this is a difficult trap to avoid completely with the indecisive Hamlet and his numerous soliloquies. In all, a solid performance. Exceptional performance by Kelly Criss who portrayed of Ophelia’s crazy phase particularly well. Jeff Watkins’ Polonius could be counted on for a side long glance and other facial expressions that added much humor that can’t be found in the text alone. Laura Cole, a veteran of Shakespeare Tavern, portrayed Gertrude as a more bawdy, and less innocent, Queen than most, adding depth and complexity to the role. Sound is always a problem in plays, and I felt it was mastered well, except when the music and sound effects drowned out the words of the ghost, played by Matt Nitchie. The costumes are very well done, though I always think that after crafting such elaborate dress, the Tavern should take more care to iron out the creases of the hemlines when they let them down.

This man played classical guitar in the lobby while we waited for the show to start.
This man played classical guitar in the lobby while we waited for the show to start.

But it is always easy to be a critic. This is a solid play and I believe we are lucky to have this unique venue, America’s only Shakespeare Tavern, An Original Practice Playhouse® with a British-Pub menu available before each performance.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each play and how they are connected:

Hamlet takes place in Denmark. Hamlet’s father, the king, has died and his uncle, Claudius, has (all too hastily) married Hamlet’s widowed mother, Gertrude, and taken over the throne. The ghost of Hamlet’s father tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and he expects Hamlet to avenge his death. He eventually does kill Claudius, but most of the principle players die in the end, including Hamlet (struck by a poisoned blade); Gertrude (who drinks poison intended for Hamlet); Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia (drowned after going mad because Hamlet “accidentally” stabbed her father, Polonius, to death) and Ophelia’s brother, Laertes (in a duel with Hamlet). Did I mention this was a tragedy?

The hilarious inverted tale of Hamlet is then seen through the eyes of the two minor friends of the Dane. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were summoned in by the King and Queen in Hamlet to gently spy on Hamlet and report back. Near the end of the play we are told “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.” This is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966. The two courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exist in a bumbling, surreal, existential world while the plot of Hamlet plays out in the background.

I have not seen Fortenbras, so will quote Drama-Logue: “…FORTINBRAS, a comic interplay of wry literary criticism and contemporary wit which takes up where William Shakespeare’s Hamlet left off. As inescapably relevant to today’s political scene as the classic from which it is drawn, FORTINBRAS cannot help but raise questions about authority and leadership, yet with its mocking (and loving) reverence for Shakespeare’s vision, Blessing’s play comes closer in tone to Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead—sexy, inquisitive, and ultimately satisfying to the revisionist theater-lover. Chosen by Time magazine as one of the year’s ten best plays for 1991, calling it “Lee Blessing’s splendid musing on the most influential play in the English language…” “This comedy serves up a yuppie, postmodern Fortinbras, a bewildered Horatio, a blossoming Osric and lots of tasty ghosts.” —LA Times. “…only Blessing would possess the nerve and the talent to undertake such a task…Where we suffered and wailed at the consequences of Shakespeare’s tragedy, we can laugh along with Blessing at what follows in its wake…Shakespeare himself would have loved it.”

The Tavern has several selections from their English Pub including Sheppard pie
The Tavern has several selections from their English Pub including Sheppard pie
 
The kitchen opens about an hour and fifteen minutes before the performance. The Cornish Pasty
The kitchen opens about an hour and fifteen minutes before the performance. The Cornish Pasty
Cream cheese brownies are rich and delicious, but the real treat is the apple crisp, served hot at intermission.
Cream cheese brownies are rich and delicious, but the real treat is the apple crisp, served hot at intermission.

Quotes from Hamlet, still in everyday usage:

  • All that lives must die
  • Frailty, thy name is woman
  • The primrose path
  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be
  • This above all: to thine ownself be true
  • To the manner born
  • More honored in the breach than the observance
  • Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
  • Murder most foul
  • The time is out of joint
  • There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
  • Brevity is the soul of wit
  • Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t
  • There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so
  • What a piece of work is a man
  • An old man is twice a child
  • To be, or not to be: that is the question
  • What dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
  • Get thee to a nunnery
  • O, woe is me
  • The lady doth protest too much, methinks
  • Hoist with his own petard
  • Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio (the Horatio is often replaced with the word well, a common misquote)
Lobby
Lobby

Atlanta History, through Oakland Cemetery: Margaret Mitchell

HOFAmbassadorsThis is part of an occasional series, exploring the history of my adopted home town, Atlanta. As an Ambassador for the Historic Oakland Foundation, I focus on the “residents” of Oakland Cemetery, using their lives to tell the history of the ATL.

The celebrated and humble rest together at Oakland. Tycoon and pauper, Christian and Jew, black and white, powerful and meek, soldier and civilian—all are here, Including:

Margaret Mitchell, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gone With the Wind

MargaretportraitcourtesyofAtlFultonLibraryMargaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 8, 1900. As a child, she was fascinated by the Civil War stories she heard from Confederate veterans. The imaginative girl wrote, produced, and directed plays, casting her friends, and inviting the neighborhood to the porch performances. Explaining how the idea for her novel came to her, Margaret Mitchell said, “in the cradle”. She had heard so much as a child about the battles and the hard times following the Civil War, she believed, for a long time, that her parents had actually been through it. The Pulitzer Prize winning novel was first published in 1936 and sold more than a million copies in the first six months. It is reputed to be the second most read book in the world, with the Bible being number one.

Mitchell entered Smith College in the fall of 1918 but soon suffered major setbacks. First, she received news that her fiancé, Clifford Henry, was killed in action in World War I. The following January, her mother died during a flu epidemic. Mitchell left college to take charge of the Atlanta household of her father and her older brother, Stephens.

After making her debut, the free-spirited Mitchell scandalized Atlanta society by performing a provocative dance at a debutante ball. Two years later the headstrong flapper married Berrien “Red” Upshaw, an ex-football player and bootlegger. Financial pressures led her to begin writing for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine where she earned $25 per week. Their stormy marriage ended in divorce in 1924. Within a year she married John Marsh, a former suitor and an editor at the paper. Soon after, Mitchell left her job to convalesce from a series of injuries. During this period she began writing the book that would make her famous.

Gone With the Wind was published in June 1936. Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her sweeping novel the following May. It was made into an equally famous motion picture starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. The movie had its world premiere at the Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta December 15, 1939. (This building was extensively damaged as the result of a fire on January 30, 1978. The Georgia-Pacific Tower was built on the former site of the theater. Bricks from the building were recycled and used to build a popular Atlanta restaurant, Houston’s, located five miles North, at 2166 Peachtree in Buckhead.)

Following the publication of Gone With the Wind and the release of the motion picture, Mitchell had the financial resources to support philanthropic interests, including numerous social service organizations in Atlanta and medical scholarships for Morehouse College students. During World War II, the U.S.S. Atlanta sank during battles off Guadalcanal. Mitchell led war bond drives for funds to build a replacement ship, raising $65 million in only sixty days. She christened this U.S.S. Atlanta in February 1944.

On August 11, 1949, while crossing the intersection of Peachtree and 13th Streets, Margaret Mitchell was struck by an off-duty cab driver. She died five days later and was buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. Her marker is often hard for folks to find because they are looking for the surname “Mitchell” but she is buried under Marsh, her husband’s name.

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Born in nearby Old Fourth Ward, as a child, Margaret often rode her pony, Nellie, through Oakland’s grounds, so it is fitting that she came back here. Near the Marsh grave is a gas lamp that was one of the original 50 installed by the Atlanta Gas Light company in 1856. The lamp, which bears scars from the bombing of Atlanta in 1864, was donated to the cemetery by Franklin Miller Garrett. The keen observer might notice that the plaque that describes the gas lamp’s history incorrectly dates the lamp to 1850.

Special tours at Oakland Featuring Margaret Mitchell: Saturday: 7/6, Sunday 9/15: This tour will visit the gravesites of Margaret Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, as well as other Mitchell family members and pioneers of Atlanta. Meet several residents Margaret Mitchell is believed to have used as a basis for characters in Gone With the Wind. While none of the characters in the novel are specifically based on real life people, she scrambled appearances and personalities of some she knew and knew of, to weave a compelling saga of a world turned upside down.

ALSO: Guided tours of the Margaret Mitchell House are offered daily and include visits to her Crescent Avenue apartment, which she affectionately nicknamed “The Dump,” and to exhibitions about her life and the movie version of her book. The historic space where Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind provides an apt setting for learning about her motives for writing the novel and the lifestyle of the author and her husband, John Marsh, in 1920s Atlanta.

The Dump, now the Margaret Mitchell House, located in Midtown Atlanta
The Dump, now the Margaret Mitchell House, located in Midtown Atlanta

A bit about Historic Oakland Cemetery:  In the mid 1800’s the city of Atlanta outgrew its downtown municipal cemetery. Six acres of farmland on the edge of town were purchased to take its place. Later, in response to increased population brought in by the railroad and the need to lay 7,000 Civic War soldiers to rest, additional land was purchases to bring Oakland Cemetery to its present 48 acres. Originally called Atlanta or City Cemetery, Oakland was renamed in 1872 because of the many oak trees on the property. The Water Oaks at the entrance to Oakland are what is left of a grand line. At the end of their life cycle, these trees will not be replaced due to their destructive root system.

Located just five blocks east of the State Capital, it is the city’s oldest landmark in continuous use and was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1976. Atlanta’s most historic cemetery is the permanent home of over 70,000 of its most prosperous citizens as well as its most destitute. Oakland Cemetery evolved during the Victorian era and is a superb example of the rural garden cemetery, a style highly fashionable at the time. Such burial grounds are rare and are distinguished by magnificent mausoleums, elaborate monuments and a park like settings. Don’t miss the gift shop!

Oakland Cemetery

248 Oakland Avenue SE

Atlanta, GA 30312