The Fifteen Minute Hamlet
Todd Luiso's Version of Tom Stoppard's Version of Shakespeare's Play
In Tom Stoppard's 1979 Dogg's Hamlet, children who speak a nonsense language called Dogg rehearse Hamlet and then perform it in English, without understanding the words, in fifteen-minute and two-minute versions.
Stoppard wrote the fifteen-minute version earlier. As The Dogg's Troupe 15-Minute Hamlet, it was staged in 1976 by the Almost Free Theatre on a double-decker bus (Demastes 19). The 15-Minute Hamlet begins with Shakespeare speaking a prologue of Hamlet lines followed by an "Encore," a Hamlet so abridged that it's easily performed in fifteen minutes.
Todd Luiso's 1995 film of the play reverses this arrangement, starting with the abridged Hamlet and ending with the prologue. The entire film takes fifteen minutes and uses the conceit that Shakespeare is making a Hamlet movie.
We begin with the actors and playwright waiting for the arrival of a roll of film. We see Philip Seymour Hoffman snoozing beneath a tree, the actress playing Gertrude swigging from a flask, and poor Shakespeare tearing pages out of his play. When a messenger arrives with the film, we move inside a barn that resembles Edison's Black Maria. The messenger hands the film to a cameraman, saying, "Remember, you have but one quarter-hour roll."
The cameraman loads the film, turns the camera crank, and three long tracking shots take us through a hilariously abridged Hamlet. Afterward, we see Shakespeare at a private screening, where he's told that "the king requires adjustment in the film." Shakespeare edits his movie as he speaks the 15-Minute Hamlet prologue. At a public screening, his new, two-minute version is met with rapturous applause.
The shortened Hamlets are full of antic comic performances. Austin Pendleton as the prince is particularly funny as he runs rapidly through Hamlet's many moods. When his meditative "To be or not to be" soliloquy is interrupted by Todd Luiso's Ophelia, he suddenly shouts, "Get thee to a nunnery!" and shoves Luiso's head. Angie Phillips is also very funny as a tipsy Gertrude, guzzling the poisoned wine because she needs a drink.
The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman first appears as a slack-jawed, cockney Bernardo. He then appears as a breathy, velvet-hatted Horatio, interrupting Hamlet's first soliloquy by popping out from behind a painting, Laugh-In-style, to tell the prince he's seen Old Hamlet's ghost. As Laertes, Hoffman hams it up at Ophelia's grave. In the final scene, he plays both Laertes and Horatio by falling out of the frame as Laertes dies, then coming back from the side, wearing his Horatio hat, for the "Good night, sweet prince" speech.
Here's the film. You'll enjoy every one of its fifteen minutes.
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