October 20, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘Yorick’: ‘Hamlet’ with haunting puppets and a Malbec voice

In his philosophical farce “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Tom Stoppard reimagined Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” through the incidental view of two minor characters. In “Yorick, La Historia de Hamlet,” Chilean actor-director Francisco Reyes views the tragedy through the eyes of the prince’s long-dead jester, a character who speaks to us from beyond the grave, where his skull is still rotting and rolling.

Reyes, the director and star, originally created this production with his talented children as an outdoor offering. The 2014 piece was performed in the ruins of culturally prominent buildings in small Chilean villages.

“Yorick” has been reconceived for video during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the result is captivatingly theatrical. In a darkly intimate room, Reyes, in the guise of a resurrected Yorick, tells the story of Shakespeare’s play through plasticine puppets, which he brings to life with a voice that has the richness of a smoky South American Malbec.

The production — a REDCAT presentation running Friday through Sunday — is performed in Spanish with English subtitles. The text by Simón Reyes concentrates on Hamlet’s soliloquies and main speeches, distilling and rearranging them and suggesting interpretations that would resonate widely.

Ismael Reyes, a modern-day Geppetto, has etched onto the faces of the characters the gravity of their situation. The emotion of this lifeless ensemble was more acute than in many all-human companies, thanks to the Shakespearean spell cast by the show’s flesh-and-blood ringleader.

Reyes, who starred in Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 film “A Fantastic Woman,” animates the figurines as though they were an extension of himself. Clutching each to his grizzled beard and speaking in a gravely lyrical whisper, he seems to be imparting tragic confidences.

Hamlet’s melancholy dominates, but Reyes encompasses a more sweeping view in the craggy beauty of his narration. This ingenious hourlong stroll through the play — enlivened with tense music (by Miguel Miranda) and song (by Rocío Reyes) — rouses a classic from the torpor of familiarity. The plot is reduced, but the intrigue and the pathos live anew.

Ophelia’s stricken expression is permanently affixed. Laertes brandishes a bad-boy swagger. Polonius and Claudius are pinched political operators. Gertrude’s matronly façade can’t conceal her complicity.

Clad in black like a depressed graduate student steeped in Foucault, Hamlet contemplates the morality and metaphysics of revenge. Suicidal thoughts swarm his mind, but he perks up when the players arrive at Elsinore. The notion of using “this most miraculous of media,” the theater, to reveal Claudius’ foul murder propels him out of his helplessness.

The play within the play unfolds as a ballet of hands. The whiff of theatrical performance excites Reyes’ tempo as much as Hamlet’s. But as the foreboding underscore reveals, tragedy won’t be denied.

Yorick, off the royal payroll, is no longer “a fellow of infinite jest.” He still has a soft spot for theatrical play. But he’s a man before he’s a fool, and his somberly egalitarian view of the play’s meaning is larger than Hamlet’s sorry end.

A slyly proletarian take on Shakespeare’s classic, “Yorick” sees beyond the imperial jockeying for the crown. The rest isn’t silence but a meditation by Yorick on the universality of death. Hamlet’s repurposed words about a fat king and a lean beggar coming to the same worm-devouring end provide a fitting coda for a hired hand we have known until now only as a skull.

‘Yorick, La Historia de Hamlet’

Where: Streaming through REDCAT

When: 5 p.m Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Ends Sunday.

Tickets: $15

Info: www.redcat.org

Running time: 1 hour