The Rehearsal, in Performance: Review of Pan Pan’s Playing the Dane

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Daniel Reardon and Conor Madden (Ros Kavanagh)

How It’s New York:  When I saw The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane in Ireland, I’d had no time to eat.  Closest food:  McDonald’s on Grafton Street.  When I saw this in NYC, I’d had no time to eat.  Closest food:  Colombian food truck with fresh arepas around the corner.  Says it all.
How It’s Irish:  Pan Pan Theatre is one of Dublin’s acclaimed innovative theatre companies; “experimental,” for lack of a better word.  This production won several awards in The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival in 2010 (see our feature on the show here, and listen to my interview with director Gavin Quinn on last week’s podcast).

In NYC for four short days last weekend, it was a must-see event.  The night I went, I bumped into the New York Times’ Scott Heller and the Village Voice’s Alexis Soloski.  RTÉ radio were there, interviewing critics about the impact Imagine Ireland has had.  I spoke for a few minutes, articulately I hope– so much to say!  During the part where people vote for their favorite Hamlet, I saw Irish Arts Center’s (and NYIA’s) Rachael Gilkey stand by Bush, while Imagine Ireland/Irish Arts Center publicist Nik Quaife stood by Conor.

This review was originally published in Theatermania.

The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane

Reviewed By: Gwen Orel · Nov 11, 2011  · New York
Conor Madden in <i>The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane</i><br /> (© Ros Kavanagh)” border=”0″ src=”http://www.newyorkirisharts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/44601a.jpg” style=”border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px;” /></td>
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<td align=Conor Madden in The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane
(© Ros Kavanagh)

Pan Pan Theatre’s award-winning play, The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, now in a brief run at NYU’s Skirball Center, should not be missed by anyone interested in Hamlet. It’s a fascinating, sometimes thrilling, and occasionally slow-going work — not only full of poetry, but also one that explores the use of theater to get at the truth, most notably in the play within Hamlet called The Murder of Gonzago.

In Act I, three actors audition for the show’s director (played by Gavin Quinn), and at the end of the act audience members come onstage to stand by their choice to play the Dane. The second half shows scenes from Hamlet, several that we have seen versions of in Act I.
All of this takes place in a rehearsal room setting (designed by Aedin Cosgrove), with the floor a huge red and white version of the flag of Denmark. Props include silver garbage cans, skulls tossed around like balls (costumes and props by Sarah Bacon) to an actual Great Dane (played by Cuidado). The dog accompanies an academic (played by L. Jay Oliva) reading an essay about the instability of the play, with its several versions at the top of Act I. In Act II, the dog reappears briefly, wearing a huge ruff.
All of this is playful and smart. We know we’re in a slightly absurd theater world when the actors (including the dog) get in line and the director assigns roles to them, asking the girl to play Polonius and a tall man to play Ophelia. He also invites a member of the audience up to read three lines. But it’s not just a send-up as we discover that, though cast against type, they really are quite good.

The auditions establish themselves as a comedy of the absurd when first auditioner, Derrick Devine, says he forgot to take off his top. Conor Madden (voted in as Hamlet on the 10th) is hugely physical, except that he “holds back” due to an injury incurred in swordfighting (which apparently is true). His miming of hurdling is hilarious. The modern piece he reads is from Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and Beckettian images of stasis haunt the production.

Bush Moukarzel is the third candidate for Hamlet, a tall actor with a beautiful voice. Inserted between the auditions are excerpts from the play, including a scene with the ghost (Andrew Bennett, also playing Claudius, with a sonorous voice), holding a small lamp with lampshade in pitch darkness.
Act II begins with choral readings, just out of synch, of the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy, making the much-heard soliloquy strange. Conor plays his scene with Ophelia (Judith Roddy) in the Endgame wheelchair, which is not only funny, but also shows Hamlet’s paralysis. Roddy is an earnest Ophelia who tries not to cry, which makes her more pitiful. There are also memorable moments with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonious, and even the gravedigger, who plays air guitar on his shovel. 
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Copyright 2011 New York Irish Arts

Comments

  1. I would’ve loved to see Bush as Hamlet, or Conor Madden play Hamlet as he did in his rehearsal, all gorilla-limbed and indignant of Shakespeare!