Volume 81, Number 6 | July 7 - 13, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A new adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic, by Minsoo Ahn and Byungkoo Ahn
Directed by Byungkoo Ahn
Performed in Korean with English supertitles
Through July 10
Thurs. through Sat. at 7:30pm;
Sun. at 2:30pm
At La MaMa
(74A E. 4th St., btw. Bowery and 2nd Ave.).
For tickets: $35 ($20 for students/seniors): Call 866-811-4111 or visit lamama.org

Photo by Chun ik Chang

Not your father’s Hamlet…unless you’re Byungkoo Ahn.

Sound and fury signifying something worth seeing
Korean ‘Hamlet’ casts shaman’s spell over Shakespeare’s long shadow


Cacophonous sound? Check. Ample fury? Check. But what does it all signify — other than referencing a line from “Macbeth” when the play that’s the thing is “Hamlet?”

The sound comes courtesy of Ok Kyun Kang’s alternately hyper and haunting music. The lion’s share of the fury comes from empowering grief dredged up by lead actor Young Kun Song. What this all signifies will depend largely upon your basic knowledge of the plot…and the speed at which you process supertitles…and it sure won’t hurt if you have some knowledge of, or appreciation for, Korean shamanic rituals and court dances.

Bring none of these qualities to the table and you’ll still be sufficiently riveted by the stunning costumes, unsettling sound design, vocal pyrotechnics and universal body language used to convey this stripped down, amped up play about a son haunted by his father…that just happens to be adapted and directed by a son whose father first adapted and directed it 35 years ago. (In 1977, Min Soo Ahn’s “Hamlet” marked the first time a Korean theater company — the Donrang Repertory Theatre — had presented its work to Western audiences). Whether it’s happening behind the scenes or on the stage, “Hamyul/Hamlet” is all about one big circle going round and round.

Head pointed downward and bathed in shadows, this short-fused Hamlet (or Hamyul) has no use for brooding — so when the murdered ghost of his father shows up demanding justice, it’s all the encouragement our pissed off prince needs to feign madness as a cover for getting sweet revenge on the uncle who’s wasted no time helping mom go from newly minted widow to blushing bride. Forget everything you’ve seen and heard before about Shakespeare’s “Melancholy Dane” — our man Hamyul is driven more by righteous rage than paralyzing introspection.

Although by no means as heretical or radical as it sounds, the decision to cast Hamyul as an angry young man is a smart and efficient and effective one. That leaves fair Ophelia to pick up the slack when it comes to bringing home the bacon as a depressive saddled with the sudden death of a loved one — and boy, does she ever! Also making this interpretation unique is the use of dance to convey key plot points. But for all the schemes, betrayals and murder, it’s Ilkyu Park’s ghostly King Hamlet that has the most lasting impact. Clad in a beautiful, bloated, blood red costume, face obscured and egging his son on in an intimidating echoed voice, it’s easy to see why Hamyul’s such a light touch when it comes to ancestral requests for revenge. 

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