To Be Liked or Not to Be Liked

You're wrong. Photo courtesy Rude Guerrilla

Rude Guerrilla's production of Heiner Müller's Hamletmachine is, if nothing else, certainly one of the most naked presentations to appear on an Orange County stage NOT advertised in the back pages of this paper. In keeping with the company's reputation, many of the actors spend more time nude than clothed, but the titillation factor wears off rather quickly when the naked actress in question is wearing a paper Marx mask, reciting quotations about Capitalist class structure and pointing a mirror in your face.

Your appreciation of Hamletmachine will hinge upon your tolerance for theater that is utterly self-conscious, deliberately difficult, alienating and German. If you've already groaned in incredulity multiple times at this description, well . . . mission accomplished.

The play's desire to challenge one's expectations about what capital-t theater is gives it an artistically dubious ambiguity that renders it impervious to criticism. Didn't like the play? Found it pretentious and boring? Well, that's precisely the point! Loved the play? Found it entertaining and intellectually challenging? Well, that's precisely the point, too.

And I did find it worthwhile—though, like many a psychedelic experience, the thoughts and emotions it provoked in me seemed far less profound the morning after. The dialogue's fast pace and oblique references force the viewer to surrender any desire for narrative coherency and instead focus on what emotions and thoughts are provoked by whatever snippets of imagery one CAN grasp.

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The audience's mind is forced to work nearly as hard as the performers onstage and, in the end, you're left with more questions about artistic meaning and human nature than you had coming in. But are these questions really worth spending time investigating—or is Hamletmachine little more than intellectual masturbation, as useless in practical application as the books of philosophy by which the lead actor is assaulted during the opening scenes? Either way, Hamletmachine fulfills its intent. All it demands is that we feel one way or another about it, and it certainly achieves that. Is it a good play? I thought so. You may not. And in the eyes of Hamletmachine, we're both wrong.


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