'Imagine that Shakespeare's play is a precious old vase, and someone comes along and smashes that vase into a thousand pieces," said Charles Marowitz, whose version of "Hamlet" opens Thursday at the L.A. Actors' Theatre.
"If one were to take those pieces and put them back together, the arrangement would be new. That is, I suppose, what this (production) is. Shakespeare provides the vase and I provide the glue."
Marowitz, 50, has been reassembling "Hamlet" since a 1965 Berlin production in which Hamlet represented "the parlor liberal, the sort of guy that was constantly sounding off about Vietnam but never doing anything about it. It was an indictment of that kind of rationalizer-analyzer. Though the play has, over the years, moved further away from a classical form, that fundamental consciousness remains.
"Those who are coming to see Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' played out in a normal narrative way will be very disappointed," he said. "There is no period consistency, no story line. This version quite deliberately sets off in another direction: in Hamlet's imagination and the minds of the audience.
"All of the ingredients are there, but not in the conventional way. The characters are there--even if they don't exist. They're there as inferences, phantoms, word associations. So, the performing troupe is made up of the same people who play other characters. There are elements of Osric, Horatio, the clown, the gravedigger."
Marowitz's style of interpretation is one he's applied to a collection of classics ("Variations on the Merchant of Venice," "An Othello," etc.) as well as to the original work staged during his years at London's West End, at the Royal Shakespeare Company and at his own Open Space.
"I found myself doing rewrites, revisions--a lot of script work with people," he noted. "Little by little I gravitated toward writing my own stuff. (His "Sherlock's Last Case" is currently at the New Mayfair.)
"Now, I have to adapt myself to the breaking of the umbilical cord between my material and its direction. It's been a rather difficult adjustment. In the past, all the so-called plays I've written have really been inscribed productions. In other words, one had simply written down the production into a format in which one could direct it. Now, I'm tending to write plays per se--which have to be done by other people. I'm quite content with that. . . . Well, I'm talking myself into it."
One thing Marowitz seems perfectly comfortable with is his theatrical judgment, first demonstrated at 17, "when I had my own theater company in New York, doing, funnily enough, modern-dress versions of 'Dr. Faustus' and Chekhovian farces."
The source of that early confidence: "Unmitigated arrogance. One starts off thinking one knows what one is talking about. Then one is amazed to find that people are being persuaded by that--eventually you get persuaded by it yourself. Little by little you find the things you're doing do sort of make sense. So, you finally become a convert to your own arrogance."
Besides writing and directing, Marowitz writes reviews of Los Angeles theater for the Guardian. "In England, criticism operates from a framework called fair comment. In this country, if I write a critical piece about the Mark Taper, it's taken that I have effigies of Gordon Davidson in my bedroom and enjoy spending the night sticking needles in his most vulnerable parts."