In writing about The Misanthrope last month, I had the occasion to think about the nature of very extreme modernizations of classic plays, and the tailoring of such plays to fit whatever esoteric concept directors impose upon them. It struck me that this type of production can work quite well as long as the play itself does not get entirely subsumed by the alien concept. When that happens, then the director might as well write a brand-new vehicle, or hire a writer to do so—something that fits more smoothly into his particular agenda.

The Wooster Group’s production of Hamlet, playing this fall at the Public Theater, was conceived on a premise that at first sounds intriguing, but when translated into dramatic terms has proved deeply perverse. Here is the Group’s program note, explaining their idea:

Richard Burton’s Hamlet, a 1964 Broadway production, was...


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